Reduce your diabetes risk

There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Type 2 is the most common and is often linked to being overweight. That means there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing it.

Are you at risk of type 2 diabetes? Find out by using our interactive diabetes risk tool

Type 1 diabetes is not linked to being overweight. Instead, the cells that produce insulin in the body are damaged for reasons that aren't yet fully understood. There are no lifestyle changes that can lower your risk of type 1 diabetes.

However, around 90% of people diagnosed with the condition have type 2 diabetes. If you maintain a healthy weight, you can reduce your risk of developing the condition.

If you think that you may already have symptoms of diabetes, see your GP.

Could you have pre-diabetes?

In addition to people diagnosed with diabetes, many more people have blood glucose (sugar) levels that are above the normal range, but aren't high enough to be diagnosed as having diabetes. This is sometimes called "pre-diabetes" – also known as impaired fasting glycaemia (IFG) or impaired glucose intolerance (IGT).

Even if you feel healthy, if your blood glucose levels are higher than normal (pre-diabetes) you may be at risk of diabetes if you don't take preventative steps, such as eating more healthily, losing weight (if you're overweight) and becoming more physically active.

Diabetes and your weight

If you are overweight or obese, with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or above, you’re at an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. 

You can find out if you're a healthy weight by calculating your body mass index (BMI) using our healthy weight calculator

However, BMI advice was issued in July 2012 by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to south Asian and Chinese adults, who have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than white populations. These groups are advised to maintain a BMI lower than the standard 25.

The advice is:

  • Asians with a BMI score of 23 or more are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. 
  • Asians with a BMI of 27.5 or more are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. 

Although the evidence is less clear-cut, black people and other minority groups are also advised to maintain a BMI below 25, to reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes.

BMI isn't the only important measurement. Your waist measurement may also indicate that you're carrying extra body fat, and are therefore at risk.

  • For all women, a waist measurement of more than 80cm (31.5 inches) indicates an increased risk.
  • For white or black men, a waist measurement of more than 94cm (37 inches) indicates an increased risk.
  • For Asian men, a waist measurement of more than 90cm (35 inches) indicates an increased risk.

If you lose excess weight, you’ll lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. A healthy diet and physical activity are the key to a healthy weight, but that doesn't have to mean going on a strict diet and spending hours at the gym. 

Other risk factors

A number of other factors can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, most of which are things that can't be controlled.

Risk factors include:

  • being over 40, or over 25 if you're black or Asian
  • having a close family member (parent, brother or sister) who has type 2 diabetes
  • being south Asian or African-Caribbean; these ethnic groups are five times more likely to get type 2 diabetes
  • having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), especially if you're also overweight
  • having had gestational diabetes (diabetes that lasts for the duration of a pregnancy)
  • having impaired fasting glycaemia or impaired glucose tolerance

If you have any of these risk factors, you should maintain a healthy weight to ensure that your risk of diabetes doesn't increase further.

Page last reviewed: 01/10/2014

Next review due: 01/10/2016


How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 99 ratings

All ratings

46  ratings
25  ratings
5  ratings
6  ratings
17  ratings

Add your rating

Services near you

Find addresses, phone numbers and websites for services near you

Your NHS Health Check

Millions of people have already had their free "midlife MOT". Find out why this health check-up is so important

Life with diabetes

Tips on living with a long-term condition, including healthcare, medicines and support

Reduce diabetes risk

You can lower your risk of type 2 diabetes by maintaining a healthy weight

Two friends

Living with diabetes

How to live healthily with diabetes, including advice on diet and lifestyle

How to have a balanced diet

A healthy diet contains food from the five major food groups to give us the energy and nutrients we need

My life with diabetes

Brian Hunte, 67, explains how he manages his diabetes, including changing his diet and having daily insulin injections