Preventing type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. The good news is, that for many people it can be prevented, so here are some ways to lower your risk of getting it.

Before you're diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, your blood glucose levels may be high. You may have had an HbA1c test done and been diagnosed with prediabetes, or you may have pre-diabetes and not know it. However if you have prediabetes it doesn't mean you have to get diabetes, there are things you can do to stop it developing. 

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Here are some top tips to help make sure you don’t become another diabetes statistic:

1. Know your risk

Some groups of people are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. This includes people who:

  • are of European descent aged 40 years or older
  • have others (grandparents, parents, brothers or sisters) with diabetes in their whānau/family.
  • are of Māori, Asian, Middle Eastern or Pacific Island descent aged 30 years or older.
  • have high blood pressure
  • are overweight (especially if you carry most of your weight around your waist)
  • have prediabetes (also known as impaired glucose tolerance) – this occurs when the glucose (sugar) in your blood is higher than normal, but not high enough to be called diabetes
  • gave birth to a large baby weighing more than 9lbs / 4kg, or have had gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy)
  • had high blood glucose in pregnancy
  • have had high blood glucose in the past.

Find out if you are at risk of type 2 diabetes with this simple quiz. 

2. Get screened

Most people don’t know they have pre-diabetes as there are no obvious symptoms during this stage but, if you have any of the risk factors described above, talk to your doctor or nurse about a diabetes screening test.

3. Lose weight

If you’re overweight, the number one thing you can do to reduce your risk of developing diabetes is to lose weight. In particular, visceral fat – the excess weight around your midsection and abdominal organs – is associated with inflammation, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Studies show reducing your weight by 5 to 10% can prevent, delay or even reverse prediabetes. 

4. Get active

Be physically active each day. Not only will it help to reduce your weight, physical activity also helps your body properly use the hormone insulin, which takes glucose into your cells to give you energy. 

You don't have to take up a high-cardio option to reap the benefits. Short exercise bouts that last as little as 10 minutes, such as brisk walking, are all helpful. Start out with short workouts and try to work up to 150 minutes across your week. If you can aim for 30 to 60 minutes a day, even better!

5. Make healthy food choices

Healthy eating isn’t about sticking to strict diets or depriving yourself of the foods you love. Rather, it’s about eating a balanced range of foods that help you feel great, have more energy, improve your outlook and help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Some quick wins to eat more healthily are:

  • Reduce your intake of refined carbohydrates and sugary foods like fizzy soda, lollies, dessert, white bread, pasta, and sweetened breakfast cereals.
  • Reduce your intake of pre-packaged and processed foods like hot dogs, chips, pies.
  • Limit your intake of red meat. Avoid processed meats and choose nuts, whole grains, beans, poultry or fish instead. 
  • Reduce your portion sizes or try eating off a smaller plate so you consume less.
  • Eating more fibre might help prevent spikes in blood sugar and insulin, which may reduce your risk of diabetes.
  • Get your whānau to join you in making healthy food choices – it will benefit everyone and it's much easier to do if you are all in it together.

Find out more about healthy eating.

Image credit: Health Navigator NZ

6. Drink plenty of water

Sticking with water as your main drink will help you stay away from beverages that are high in sugar. Sugary drinks like soda and sweetened fruit juices have been linked to an increase of type 2 diabetes.

7. Quit smoking

Studies have shown that smoking, especially heavy smoking, is strongly linked to diabetes risk. Quitting has been shown to reduce this risk over time.

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Remember, for many people (but not all), type 2 diabetes can be prevented by making healthy food choices and staying active. This applies to all ages.

If you're a parent or caregiver, you can lead by example:

  • Get more active together – walk the dog, go to the park or play a game outside.  
  • Offer healthy snacks not ultra-processed foods – ditch the chips and lollies and save them for the occasional treat.
  • Limit screen time and encourage other outdoor or fun activities instead.
  • Eat meals together at the table.

Learn more

Understanding type 2 diabetes Diabetes New Zealand
Are you at risk of Type 2 Diabetes? Diabetes New Zealand
Diabetes overview
Health Navigator
Type 2 diabetes Health Navigator
Diabetes Ministry of Health


11 Ways to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes Healthline, US, 2022
Understanding type 2 diabetes Diabetes New Zealand, 2022
Simple steps to preventing diabetes Harvard School of Public Health, US

Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team.