Weight loss may reduce type 2 diabetes risk

URBANA—Although people are typically born with type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes is most prevalent and associated with obesity. In fact, an estimated 80 percent of those who develop type 2 diabetes are obese.

Karen Chapman-Novakofski, associate professor and nutritionist at the University of Illinois, explains that type 2 diabetes is often developed when people are in their 40s, 50s and 60s—a time in life when they may be adding a few pounds. Staying within a healthy weight range may prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.

“Because there has been a rise in the number of obese teens, we’re seeing more cases of type 2 diabetes and we’re seeing more of these problems with people earlier—in their ’40s as opposed to their ’60s,” says Chapman-Novakofski. “We’re also seeing what’s referred to as ‘mature onset’ in youth younger than teens.”

There’s also a condition known as pre-diabetes, which means the blood glucose levels are between normal and a diagnosis of the disease.

“A person’s physician may tell them that they have found ‘some sugar’ in the urine or blood,” Chapman-Novakofski said. “If people are at this stage of pre-diabetes, it’s the time to make some life style and diet changes before the condition develops into full-blown diabetes—decrease calories, lose weight, and increase exercise.”

Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure, blindness, and amputation in adults. It is a disorder in which the body’s cells fail to take up glucose from the blood. Tissues waste away as glucose-starved cells are forced to consume their own proteins.

“Almost all of the increased cases in the last decade have been in the 85 percent of diabetics who suffer from type 2, or ‘adult-onset’ diabetes,” says Chapman-Novakofski. “These individuals lack the ability to use the hormone insulin effectively.”

Chapman-Novakofski says there have been major breakthroughs in genetic research concerning the familial clustering of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, although much more research is needed to understand how insulin “signals” to a cell and how the insulin receptor works at the molecular level.

Chapman-Novakofski says she’s in the business of helping people change their life-styles to improve their health, particularly with respect to diabetes. She has adapted and modified the content for a program called “Dining with Diabetes.” It’s a statewide Extension program that was first developed at the University of West Virginia.

“So far about 3,000 people in Illinois have participated in the three day-long sessions,” she says. “It focuses on teaching people how to cook meals that are healthy. And, they get to taste the meals and verify that they actually taste good, too.”

Participants in the program are given a pre-test and a post-test to evaluate their understanding and commitment to change their diet.

“Some people don’t know much at all about how what they eat affects their diabetes, so they need to be made more aware,” she said. “Some are at the I-need-to-do-something stage but don’t know where to start. Some may have already purchased a cookbook for diabetics and some may have already attempted to make changes in their life style.”

People tend to make changes in life based on how bad they think it is—how susceptible they are to disease, says Chapman-Novakofski.

“Teens believe they are invincible and going blind in 40 years, which can happen if their diabetes is not controlled, is hard for them to imagine happening,” she said. “Adults tend to think of the barriers to change—money, time or energy, so we try to show them ways to overcome those barriers.

“It’s especially important for people with diabetes to be able to identify which foods are high in carbohydrates and which foods are high in calories,” she continues.

Carbohydrates have a greater effect on blood glucose than protein or fat alone. It’s important for people to know which foods those are. It is also important to maintain calories at a constant level so that weight isn’t going up. Too many calories also will cause blood glucose to rise.

The symptoms of diabetes are increased thirst and urination, sometimes a sudden change in weight, and blurred vision. For more information about diabetes, visit http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/diabetes/index.html.

Take the Dining with Diabetes Test

More than 3,000 people in Illinois have participated in a three-day Illinois Extension program called Dining with Diabetes. Participants take the pre-test below to evaluate their understanding and commitment to change their diet. Try taking the test yourself to see how much you know. Answers can be found below.

The following questions ask what you know about certain foods.

1. Check each of the foods that are sources of carbohydrate:

Hamburger patty



Orange Juice




Olive Oil



2. Check the sweetener that loses its sweet taste in baking.

Aspartame (Nutrasweet)

Saccharin (Sweet ‘n Low)

Acesulfame Potassium (Sweet One)

Sucralose (Splenda)

3. When two kinds of artificial sweeteners are used together, they are much sweeter than when either is used alone.



4. Do you know how to use the Food Guide Pyramid for daily meal planning?



5. Which one of the following is not usually printed on the Nutrition Facts Label on packaged foods?



Total Fat


6. Check all of the following foods that are high in saturated fat.


Olive Oil


Corn Oil

7. Check all of the following foods that are high in monounsaturated fat.


Olive Oil


Corn Oil

8. Which type of fat is usually printed on the Nutrition Facts Label?

Total Fat

Monounsaturated Fat

Saturated Fat

Polyunsaturated Fat

9. Check all of the following reasons that fiber is important in the diet.

To provide roughage

To provide a quick source of energy

To help the body get rid of some of the cholesterol we eat

To help slow down absorption of glucose

Answers to Dining With Diabetes

1. apple, cookie, bread, potato, milk, orange juice, sugar

2. Aspartame (Nutrasweet)

3. True

4. yes

5. starch

6. butter, lard

7. olive oil, corn oil

8. total fat

9. to provide roughage, to help the body get rid of some of the cholesterol we eat, to help slow down absorption of glucose.

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