November is Diabetes Awareness Month

Last updated: November 4, 2021, at 6:37 a.m. PT

Originally published: November 2, 2021, at 12:52 p.m. PT

Collection of materials showing diabetes prevention, including an apple, notebook, pencil, and measuring tool.

Nearly 10% of Americans (34.2 million people) have diabetes, with nearly 1 in 3 (88 million) being diagnosed as prediabetic, or at high risk for diabetes. Among Black and Hispanic people, the risk for developing diabetes is greater than other groups.

In the U.S., diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death and the number one cause of kidney failure, lower-limb amputations, and adult blindness.

Today, cases are rising fastest among people younger than 20-years-old, according to the CDC. Everything from family history, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and weight gain, to environmental factors and lack of access to fresh foods can contribute to higher risk factors for diabetes.

As a chronic health condition, diabetes affects how your body turns food into energy and can require additional health care, testing, and daily prescriptions, but it is possible to live a long and healthy life with diabetes with a few small changes that can have large impacts. For prediabetics, or people at-risk for becoming prediabetic, it’s crucial to begin self-educating early and adjustments to diet, exercise, and lifestyle can help many to keep diabetes at bay.

At the Y, we can help by beginning with education, self-care, and prompting new healthy habits. In youth and adults, there is much room for improvement in preventing diabetes complications.

A trained YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program lifestyle coach and a registered dietitian can help answer your questions, build awareness about the risk factors, symptoms, and types of diabetes, and help determine if you qualify for the Y’s Diabetes Prevention Program.

Individuals can also self-assess their risk of diabetes by taking a simple test. Through this assessment, visitors can also learn how lifestyle choices and family history help determine the ultimate risk for developing the disease. Several factors that could put a person at risk for type 2 diabetes include race, age, weight, and activity level. If a person is at risk, a diabetes screening conducted by a physician can confirm a diabetes or prediabetes diagnosis.

To better understand the risks, let’s break it down into the three main types of diabetes, along with a fuller understanding of what prediabetes is.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is thought to be caused by an autoimmune reaction (the body attacks itself by mistake) that stops your body from making insulin. Approximately 5-10% of the people who have diabetes have type 1. Symptoms of type 1 diabetes often develop quickly. It’s usually diagnosed in children, teens, and young adults. If you have type 1 diabetes, you’ll need to take insulin every day to survive. Currently, no one knows how to prevent type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes

With type 2 diabetes, your body doesn’t use insulin well and can’t keep blood sugar at normal levels. About 90-95% of people with diabetes have type 2. It develops over many years and is usually diagnosed in adults (but more and more in children, teens, and young adults). You may not notice any symptoms, so it’s important to get your blood sugar tested if you’re at risk. Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed with healthy lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, eating healthy food, and being active.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes develops in pregnant women who have never had diabetes. If you have gestational diabetes, your baby could be at higher risk for health problems. Gestational diabetes usually goes away after your baby is born but increases your risk for type 2 diabetes later in life. Your baby is more likely to have obesity as a child or teen, and more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life too.


In the United States, 88 million adults — more than 1 in 3 — have prediabetes. What’s more, more than 84% of them don’t know they have it. With prediabetes, blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes raises your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. The good news is if you have prediabetes, a CDC-recognized lifestyle change program can help you take healthy steps to reverse it.

Diabetes can be detrimental but with some simple changes in our day-to-day habits, it can be managed. If you’re at risk, it can be prevented from having an impact on our lives, including not being diagnosed with it in the first place.

Making some basic lifestyle changes that contribute to weight loss and healthy living can decrease the risk for diabetes. Among these are:

  • Eat fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Choose fish, lean meats, and poultry without skin.
  • Aim for whole grains with every meal.
  • Be moderately active, getting at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week.
  • Choose water to drink instead of beverages with added sugar.
  • Speak to your doctor about your diabetes risk factors, especially if you have a family history or are overweight.

Understanding your risk is the first step. The Y encourages everyone to learn their risks for prediabetes and diabetes and to take preventive steps to potentially reduce their chances of developing the disease. There isn’t a cure for diabetes, but losing weight, eating healthy food, and being active can really help prevent or manage it.

Learn more about controlling or preventing diabetes and start your journey to better health with the Y's Diabetes Prevention Program.