Understanding Diabetes: Risk Factors and Prevention

A glucose meter surrounded by sweet treats.

Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects millions of people worldwide, and the numbers are only increasing. In 2021, 14.9 percent of adults in Singapore had diabetes.

The disease can negatively affect a person’s quality of life and lead to serious complications. But there’s good news – many cases of diabetes are preventable. By knowing what can raise your risk of diabetes and making healthy choices, you can protect yourself.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes happens when your blood sugar levels get too high. There are a few types of the disease, including type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes. Individuals who have type 1 diabetes don’t produce enough insulin in the body. Type 2 diabetes happens when your body can’t use insulin effectively. It is the most common form of diabetes and is largely influenced by lifestyle factors.

In this article, we’ll focus on type 2 diabetes.

Risk factors for type 2 diabetes

Obesity: Carrying too much weight, especially around your belly, increases your risk of type 2 diabetes. Being obese can make your body's cells become less responsive to insulin, raising blood sugar levels.

Sedentary lifestyle: Not moving your body can worsen your risk of developing the disease. Regular exercise helps keep your blood sugar in check and your weight down.

Unhealthy diet: Processed foods, refined carbohydrates, sugary drinks and saturated fats can mess with your body’s ability to manage blood sugar.

Family history: Type 2 diabetes is largely caused by lifestyle factors. But if you have a parent or sibling who has the condition, you are at higher risk of developing it too.

Age: The older you get, the higher your risk of the disease.

Ethnicity: Asians are more likely to develop diabetes than Caucasians.

Other health conditions: Women who develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy are at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Sleep problems, polycystic ovary syndrome and high blood pressure can also bump up your risk.

Prevention strategies

Here are some things you can do to lower your chances of getting type 2 diabetes.

Keep a healthy weight: Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight through regular exercise is one of the most effective ways to prevent type 2 diabetes.

Eat right: Focus on whole, nutritious foods in your diet, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats. Cut back on junk food and sugary drinks.

A mother staying active by cycling through a park with a child.

Photo by Oleksandr P.

Stay active: To make exercise feel less like a chore, find a physically engaging activity that you enjoy. It could be walking, cycling, swimming, dancing or playing a sport. Make it a regular part of your routine.

Monitor blood sugar levels: If you have prediabetes or a family history of diabetes, you should monitor your blood sugar levels regularly. This way, you can catch and address any problem early.

Quit smoking: The nicotine in cigarettes messes with your body’s ability to respond to insulin. Kicking the habit can help protect you from diabetes.

Limit alcohol consumption: Too much alcohol can lead to weight gain and increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. If you enjoy drinking alcohol, do so in moderation. Be mindful of the calories and sugars in alcoholic beverages.


Remember, having one or more risk factors doesn't automatically mean that you will develop type 2 diabetes. But understanding these risk factors and proactively addressing modifiable factors, such as access weight and unhealthy diet, can make a big difference in keeping you healthy.

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