Prediabetes Doubles in Adolescents and Is a Key Risk for Older Adults

Research serves as call to adopt and stick with healthy habits sooner.

Before people develop diabetes, they almost always have prediabetes. You can think of prediabetes as an early warning sign for diabetes. It happens when blood glucose (blood sugar) levels are higher than normal, but they aren’t yet high enough to be diabetes. Any effort to prevent or delay diabetes is important since diabetes can lead to serious health issues such as heart disease, stroke, nerve damage, eye disease, and kidney disease.

New research shows prediabetes is on the rise and, although there are steps people can take to try to avoid or delay developing full-blown diabetes, many people aren’t heeding the warning.

diabetes info graphic for A1C fasting plasma glucose oral glucose tolerance test

What the Research Says

One report in JAMA Pediatrics found that nearly one in three adolescents and teens has prediabetes and the rate among 12 to 19 year-olds more than doubled between 1999–2002 and 2015–2018, jumping from 12 percent to 28 percent. The study also showed that youth who live in poverty were more likely to have prediabetes.

It’s not always easy to predict who will develop diabetes. One study found that about 1 in 20 adults age 65 or older progressed to diabetes each year. Of the 50,152 patients included in the study, 14.3 percent ended up with diabetes over the median 2.3 years of follow up. People who had higher blood glucose (blood sugar) levels or higher body mass index (BMI), an indicator of being overweight, at the start of the study were most likely to wind up with diabetes, according to the JAMA Network report. Aside from initial A1C and higher body mass index, a family history of diabetes was another key predictor. Interestingly, progression to diabetes was similar across all ages and racial/ethnic groups.  

The good news is that for many people, early treatment with lifestyle changes and diabetes medications, in some cases, can return blood glucose levels to the normal range, preventing or delaying diabetes. Even small changes can make a difference, but you have to take action.

What You Can Do

Ask your health care provider about your blood glucose (blood sugar) level. If you or someone you know has prediabetes, take action to try to get back to normal blood glucose levels to delay or prevent diabetes. Talk with your care team to come up with a plan.

Here are some tips to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes:

  • If you are overweight, manage your weight. Being overweight puts you at risk for heart disease, stroke, and other conditions. Try to shed any extra pounds, if needed. Even a little weight loss can help prevent or delay diabetes.
  • Set a simple exercise routine. Sitting too much is all-around harmful for your body and mind, so find the time to get your body moving and stay in shape. Try to get 30 minutes of exercise most days.
  • Eat meals that emphasis fresh fruits and vegetables. Choose healthy foods including non-starchy vegetables, such as carrots, broccoli, spinach, and Brussels sprouts; seafood; legumes; whole grains; and lean meats.
  • Watch your alcohol and processed food intake.  Alcohol, sodas, crackers, chips, and other boxed foods are full of empty calories.
  • Cut out added sugar. Watch for added sugars when you read food labels, limit sweets, and mind how you prepare your coffee or tea.
  • Get restful sleep. Sleep deprivation may lead to insulin resistance, which can result in high blood glucose (blood sugar) levels. In fact, sleep disturbances, such as insufficient sleep or difficulty falling or staying asleep raises your risk for diabetes. Aim to get seven to eight hours of quality sleep each night.
  • Manage stress. When anxiety runs high, you’re more likely to skip exercise, mindlessly snack, and make other unhealthy choices. Stress can also affect blood glucose levels.
  • Take your medications. In some cases, people with prediabetes may need to take a diabetes medication in addition to lifestyle changes. Be sure to ask your care provider if you are taking any medications that can increase blood glucose levels.