Clinical Review

Prevention of Type 2 Diabetes: Evidence and Strategies



From the Maimonides Medical Center (Dr. Karam) and the SUNY Downstate Medical Center (Dr. Karam and Dr. McFarlane), Brooklyn, NY.


  • Objective. To discuss the epidemic of diabetes highlighting the natural history of the disease and the major clinical trials aimed at diabetes prevention in different prediabetic populations around the world.
  • Results. Diabetes prevention studies have evaluated various interventions including lifestyle modifications, metformin, alpha-glucosidase inhibitors, thiazolidinediones, nateglinide, and xenical as well as the renin-angiotensin aldosterone system (RAS) inhibitors. Lifestyle modifications seem to be the safest, most effective, and most sustainable intervention to prevent diabetes. Except for metformin, the potential diabetes prevention benefits of the studied pharmacologic agents are limited by safety concerns or lack of durable efficacy or tolerability. RAS blockade and fibrates have a favorable glycemic effect, and, when indicated, are reasonable treatment options for hypertension and hyperlipidemia in prediabetic patients.
  • Conclusion. As recommended by American Diabetes Association guidelines, patients with prediabetes should be referred to an intensive diet and physical activity behavioral counseling program; diet and activity goals include a loss of 7% of body weight and at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. Metformin therapy for diabetes prevention should be considered as well.

Key words: prediabetes; type 2 diabetes mellitus, diabetes prevention, lifestyle modifications.

Diabetes mellitus has reached pandemic proportions across the globe. The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) estimates that in 2015 around 415 million people, or 1 in 11 adults, had diabetes, compared to 285 million in 2010, with 5 million deaths, or 1 death every 6 seconds, occurring because of diabetes or diabetes complications [1]. In the United States, an estimated 29.1 million Americans, or 9.3% of the population, have diabetes, 27.8% of them undiagnosed [2]. The prevalence of diabetes increases significantly with age, affecting around 16.2% of American adults aged 45 to 64 years and 25.9% of adults aged 65 years or older [2]. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that, with current trends, as many as 1 in 3 American adults could have diabetes by 2050 [3].

Type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM) accounts for the majority of prevalent and newly diagnosed diabetes in the world, and is strongly linked to overweight and inactivity in adults [4]. T2DM is increasingly being diagnosed in pediatric patients, in whom type 1 diabetes has historically been predominant; it now accounts for approximately 30% of newly diagnosed diabetes in children aged 10 to 19 years, exceeding 50% in certain ethnicities such as non-Hispanic black and American Indian/Alaska Native children [2].

These alarming trends have spurred significant research and public efforts aimed at reducing the prevalence of diabetes by preventing T2DM. Indeed, insulin resistance and abnormal carbohydrate metabolism progress over many years prior to the diagnosis of diabetes and manifest with different clinical and biochemical features. Both the pathophysiology and the natural history of T2DM offer clinicians an opportunity to identify patients at risk for developing the disease and to implement prevention strategies. This article outlines the risk factors and diagnostic criteria for prediabetes, describes the studies that have explored diabetes prevention through lifestyle changes, pharmacotherapy, or surgery, and reviews recommendations for managing patients at risk.


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