Type 2 Diabetes: Understanding the risk factors

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By Suzanne Traynor @Traynors
Associate Professor Mental Health (Practice) at Middlesex University & My Care Academy.

Taking care of our physical and mental health will ensure that we have the best chance of living a long and healthy life. However, people with Serious Mental Illness have a significantly higher risk of developing life limiting illnesses. All mental health staff need to have a good understanding of the risk factors to developing diabetes and how to take care of their own physical health as well as the health of service users.


Diabetes prevention week
is an opportunity to consider making positive changes to our own physical health as well as consider the particular needs of mental health service users.  Perhaps you would like to know more about your current risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and what can  you do to reduce that risk? Click here to find out your current risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.


What is Type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is a serious condition where the insulin produced by the pancreas is not working correctly or the pancreas is unable to make enough insulin.

About 90% of people with diabetes have Type 2 diabetes. It can come on slowly and the signs may not be obvious or for some there are no signs at all. There are over 12 million people in the UK who are at risk of  developing Type 2 diabetes. Although there is nothing we can do to prevent Type 1 diabetes there is a lot that can be done to prevent the development of Type 2 and it is estimated that around 3 in 5 cases of Type 2 can be delayed or prevented.


Risk factors for developing Type 2 diabetes:

  • Age: your risk increases with age. You are more at risk if you are white and over 40 or over 25 if you are African – Caribbean, Black African or South Asian
  • You are at a significant risk if you have a parent, brother, sister or child with diabetes
  • Type 2 diabetes is two to four times more likely in people of South Asian descent and African-Caribbean or Black African descent
  • You are more at risk if you have high blood pressure
  • If you are overweight especially if you are large around the middle


How can we reduce these risk factors?

  1. Maintaining a healthy weight
  2. Eating a healthy diet
  3. Being active


Maintain a healthy weight

  • Extra weight around your middle means that fat can build up around organs like your liver and pancreas. This can result in insulin resistance as the insulin can’t get through the fat. A healthy waist size should be less than:
    • 80cm (31.5 in) for all women
    • 94cm (37in) for most men
    • 90cm (35in) for South Asian men
  • Maintaining a healthy BMI and if you need to lose weight the NHS weight loss plan is a good starting place.


Eating a healthy diet

  • Eating a balanced diet with the right portion sizes is important and the Eatwell Guide is a great starting point
  • For great recipe ideas click here


Being active

We all know that being active is important – but how active should we be?  Adults are recommended to have 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity activity each week and this could be spread out to be 30 minutes x 5 times a week. It is also recommended that we carry out muscle-strengthening exercises twice a week. If we are walking at a moderate pace it would mean that we are slightly out of breath but a vigorous level of exercise will raise our heart rate and we would not be able to say more than a few words without needing to pause for breath. So although a gentle walk in the park is good for us we would need to include perhaps some hill climbs to raise our heart level and challenge ourselves.

Top tips for getting active:

  • Find something that you enjoy doing and you may need to try a couple of activities before you find the one that works best for you
  • Start slowly and work up to increasing your level of activity and perhaps you could use an App such as the Couch to 5K to motivate you
  • Find a friend to exercise with –  instead of meeting up for a coffee you could go for a walk together instead


Reflecting on your own health as well as the health of service users in your service – what could you do that would reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes? Make one small change and consider maintaining a healthy weight, diet and being active.  Consider how you could support service users to reduce their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and if you would like to know more  click here.

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