diabetic woman preparing for outdoor run in the city

6 Jun 2024

Preventing Type 2 Diabetes

In the UK, around 90% of all adults with diabetes have type 2, which is characterised by insulin resistance. You can’t change all of the risk factors for type 2 diabetes - but some are modifiable. The risk can be reduced significantly by losing excess weight, increasing physical activity and improving your diet.

Type 1 diabetes is characterised by insulin deficiency. It cannot be prevented and there is no way to predict who will get it, although the risk is slightly higher if a close relative has type 1 diabetes. It can appear at any time in someone’s life once the body has caused cells in the pancreas cells, which produce insulin, to stop working. It is often not clear why this has happened.

To learn more about the signs, symptoms and complications of diabetes, please read our article ‘What is Diabetes?’.

In this article, we will look at preventing the onset of type 2 diabetes

The scale of the problem 
  • 5 million people in England are considered to be at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • There are approximately 3.8 million people with type 2 diabetes in England and around 200,000 new diagnoses each year.
  • Type 2 diabetes is a major cause of premature mortality, with around 22,000 people with diabetes dying early each year in England. It is often not Type 2 diabetes itself that causes death, but complications of the disease, including cardiovascular disease (CVD).


You're more at risk of developing type 2 diabetes if you:
  • are over the age of 40 (or 25 if you are African-Caribbean, Black African, Chinese or South Asian);
  • have a close relative with diabetes (such as a parent, brother or sister);
  • are overweight or obese;
  • are of South Asian, Chinese, African-Caribbean or Black African descent (even if you were born in the UK).

You may also have heard of prediabetes. This is a term used to describe people who are at high risk of type 2 diabetes. It means that your blood sugar level that is higher than usual, but not high enough for you to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. It  means that you are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.


Lifestyle changes for prevention
  1. Maintain a healthy weight
    Obesity is one of the primary risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Losing even a small amount of weight if you're overweight can have a significant impact on your risk level. Combining dietary changes with increased physical activity is the most effective way to achieve and sustain a healthy weight.
  2. Adopt a balanced diet
    A diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats, while low in processed foods, sugary drinks and trans fats, is recommended. Portion control can also help prevent overeating and contribute to weight maintenance.
  3. Increase physical activity
    Regular physical activity helps control weight, lowers blood sugar levels and boosts sensitivity to insulin. The NHS recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. This can include brisk walking, cycling or swimming and if you can, it's also beneficial to include strength training exercises at least twice a week.
  4. Stop smoking
    Smoking is associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Quitting can substantially improve overall health and lower the risk of developing associated complications. Support is available for those attempting to quit, such as NHS stop smoking services.
  5. Reduce alcohol intake
    Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to weight gain and an increase in blood pressure, both of which are risk factors for type 2 diabetes. It's recommended to stick within the government guidelines for alcohol consumption to reduce risks.
  6. Regular health check-ups
    Early detection of prediabetes allows for lifestyle changes to be made before the condition progresses to type 2 diabetes. 

In some cases, when lifestyle changes are not enough or if an individual is at a very high risk of developing type 2 diabetes, medication might be prescribed. Metformin is often the recommended drug for prediabetes.