Diabetes Alert Day is March 24, said Janette Wheat, Ph.D, Cooperative Extension Program specialist.

Wheat is also an associate professor of human development and family studies at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

Observed annually by the American Diabetes Association on the fourth Tuesday in March, it is a one-day “wake-up call” that focuses on the seriousness of diabetes and the importance of understanding individual risk.

“Your chances of developing type 2 diabetes depend on a combination of risk factors such as your genes and lifestyle,” Wheat said. “If you have a family history of diabetes, you have a greater chance of developing type 2 diabetes. Risk for the disease is also connected to choices about what you eat and how often you are physically active.”

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, individuals are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes if they:

• Are overweight or obese. An adult with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, while those with a BMI of 30 or more are considered obese.

• Are age 45 or older.

• Have a family history of diabetes.

• Are African American, Alaska Native, American Indian, Asian American, Hispanic/Latino, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.

• Have high blood pressure.

• Have a low level of “good” cholesterol (HDL) or a high level of triglycerides.

• Have a history of gestational diabetes, a type of diabetes that occurs only during pregnancy, or gave birth to a baby weighing 9 pounds or more.

• Are not physically active.

• Have a history of heart disease or stroke.

• Have depression.

• Have polycystic ovary syndrome.

• Have acanthosis nigricans – dark, thick and velvety skin around the neck or armpits.

The American Diabetes Association offers a risk test to help individuals find out if they or someone they love is at risk for type 2 diabetes. The test is available online at www.diabetes.org/risk-test.

Wheat said it is important that individuals speak with their health care professional about any of these health conditions that may require medical treatment or any medicines they take that could increase their risk. Managing these issues may help reduce the chances of developing type 2 diabetes.

There are several things individuals can do on their own to reduce the chances of developing or delaying the disease, she said.

“Although you can’t change risk factors such as family history, age or ethnicity, you can change lifestyle risk factors around eating, physical activity and weight,” she said. “These changes can affect your chances of developing type 2 diabetes.”

Making an effort to keep diabetes at bay can pay off. Since diabetes can lead to serious health problems including heart disease, stroke, and eye and foot problems, delaying the disease even by a few years can greatly benefit someone’s health and overall quality of life.

Some behaviors that can help individuals reduce their chances of developing type 2 diabetes include:

• Losing weight and keeping it off. Individuals should aim to lose 5 to 7 percent of their starting weight. For example, a 200-pound person should try to lose 10 to 14 pounds.

• Moving more. Get at least 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. Those who have not been active should talk with their health care professional about which activities are best. Start slowly and build up to a personal goal.

• Eating healthy most of the time. Individuals can eat smaller portions to reduce the amount of calories they eat each day, which will help them lose weight. Choosing foods with less fat and drinking water instead of sweetened beverages are other ways to reduce calories.

• Checking in with a health care professional. It is important to ask about what other individual lifestyle changes can be made to prevent or delay the disease.

Most often, someone’s best chance for preventing type 2 diabetes is to make lifestyle changes that work for them long term, Wheat said.

“It’s not easy to make and stick to lifelong changes in what you eat and how often you are active,” she said. “Get your friends and family involved by asking them to support your changes. You can also join a diabetes prevention program to meet other people who are making similar changes.”

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff offers all of its Extension and Research programs and services without discrimination.