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5 steps to diabetes prevention: reduce your risk of type 2

For this year's Type 2 Diabetes Prevention Week (23-29 May) we share our 5 steps to diabetes prevention, which are designed to help reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. Currently 2.4 million people in England are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes Prevention Week raises awareness of the seriousness of the condition, your risk of developing it, and ways to help reduce the risk. There are many risk factors for type 2 diabetes and the reasons why it develops are complex. Living with overweight or obesity considerably increases your risk, but there are many other factors including age, ethnicity and family history that may have an impact.

If not managed well, type 2 diabetes can lead to devastating complications which can seriously damage parts of your body, including your nerves and eyes. However, research has consistently shown that for some people, making adjustments to their daily routine – including diet, physical activity and sustained weight loss – can be effective in reducing their risk by about 50%.

5 steps to diabetes prevention:

1) Watch your weight

Having a high waist measurement can mean you have fat building up around organs, like your liver and pancreas. This can lead to something called insulin resistance, which is when the insulin your body produces doesn’t work properly and increases your chance of having high blood sugar.

Losing even a small amount of weight can really make a difference - research shows losing 5% of body weight can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

We know losing weight can feel really challenging and there is support available. You could speak to your GP surgery about local weight management programmes, ask for a referral to a dietitian or the NHS Healthier You Diabetes Prevention Programme if you have a higher than normal blood sugar levels. You can also contact our helpline for advice on 0345 123 2399. 

Healthy waist size:

You can find out more information on our site about how you can maintain a healthy weight but, as a guide, healthy waist measurements have been indicated as:

  • 80cm (31.5in) for all women,
  • 94cm (37in) for most men and
  • 90cm (35in) for South Asian men - this is due to an increased risk if you are from a Black or South Asian Background.


2) Eat healthily

There’s no one-size-fits-all way of eating for people at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but research shows that our overall diet is linked to our risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Research has also shown us that certain foods and drinks can be associated with a higher or lower risk.

Key diets:

Certain diets have been linked with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes:

  • Mediterranean diet: Largely based on plant foods, so includes a lot of fruits and veg, beans and pulses, nuts and seeds, wholegrains and olive oil.
  • Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet: Also including plenty of fruit and veg, with focus on wholegrains, low-fat dairy, fish, poultry, beans and pulses, nuts and seeds. Low in salt, added sugars and saturated fat and red and processed meat.
  • Vegetarian & Vegan diet: A vegetarian diet of cutting out meat and fish replacing it with grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits with, or without, the use of dairy products and eggs. Vegans follow a similar plant-based diet avoiding all animal foods such as meat and fish but also dairy, eggs and honey.
  • The Nordic diet: similar to the Mediterranean diet, but focuses on wholegrains, berries, fruits and veg, low-fat dairy and fish.
  • Moderately cutting down on carbohydrates: this is not following a low-carb diet which is less than 130g per day, but cutting down on the amount of carbohydrate consumed and choosing healthier options such as wholegrains.

Our 10 tips for healthy eating to reduce risk of type 2 diabetes page is full of advice and ideas to help you get started.


3) Get moving

According to government advice, adults should be active to a moderate intensity for at least 150 minutes per week, which can be broken down into 30 minutes of activity, five days a week. Or you can break this down however it works best for you and fits into your lifestyle, so you feel this goal is more achievable.

Being more active and moving more is key to preventing type 2 diabetes so this is a great way to start. As your fitness and confidence improves, you can look at intensifying your exercise and do 75 minutes of more vigorous intensity across the week, in smaller amounts of time.

Ways to move more:

Check out our website for advice and tips for how you can become more active and reduce your risk – Exercise and Diabetes


4) Quit smoking

Smoking is linked to many conditions, but you may not know it is also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and can increase the risk of complications in those living with diabetes. Stopping smoking could be the best thing you do for your health and there is plenty of help and advice out there to support you.

Help to quit smoking:

Check out - NHS stop smoking services help you quit - NHS (


5) Cut down on alcohol

Like smoking, drinking alcohol to excess can have many implications for your overall health but it too has been linked with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, so it’s important to be sensible about how much you drink. It’s also high in calories, so can make it difficult if you are trying to lose weight.

Current guidelines recommend not regularly drinking more than 14 units per week and this should be spread evenly over 3-4 days and it is important to try to have a few days per week without any alcohol at all.

Alcohol and diabetes:

For the facts, head over to our alcohol and diabetes page for more information.


Know your risk

Before you begin your prevention journey, our Know Your Risk tool can estimate your risk of developing type 2 diabetes within the next ten years. The tool is evidence-based, and by answering seven simple questions about your age, gender, ethnicity, family history, waist measurement, Body Mass Index (BMI) and blood pressure, it uses a points system to identify if you are at low, increased, moderate or high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Based on your final score, you can sign up to emails with tips on how to reduce your risk or you may be signposted to your GP surgery. People at moderate or high risk can also currently sign up directly to the Healthier You: NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme.

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