Type 2 Diabetes Prevention is a Family Affair

By Martha Funnell, MS, RN, CDE, Chair, National Diabetes Education Program

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. So, what does this mean to you? Well, why not learn about your family’s health history? The National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) encourages families to come together to discuss their family’s history of type 2 diabetes. Most people with type 2 diabetes have a family member – such as a mother, father, brother, or sister – with the disease. Although you cannot change your family health history, knowing about it can give you the information you need to work with your health care team and to take action to lower your risk. You can also give these messages to those you love. NDEP, a program of the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is working with the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists [en-doh-cri-NA-lo-jists] to spread the word that preventing or delaying type 2 diabetes is proven possible, and powerful.

Your risk for type 2 diabetes goes up if you have a family history of it. Also, your risk goes up as you get older, gain weight, or if you do not stay active. Diabetes is more common among American Indian/Alaska Natives, Hispanic/Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders. Women with a history of gestational [jeh-STAY-shun-ull] diabetes (diabetes that is diagnosed during pregnancy) also have a higher risk of getting diabetes in the future. Children of women who had gestational diabetes may be at higher risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes during their lifetime.

You can help prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes by losing some weight and by getting more exercise. If you are overweight and lose at least 5% to 7% of your current weight, you significantly lower your risk for diabetes. That means that a 200-pound person would need to be moderately active and lose 10 to 14 pounds.

Here are some tips to help you, your children, and your grandchildren get started on the road to better health.


“My father always told us that he had diabetes, but we did not pay attention…Now my brothers and sisters realize that we are prone to having it,” said NDEP volunteer Sorcy Apostol. Sorcy has diabetes and is working to help her family prevent the disease. Ask your family the following questions to find out if you could be at risk for diabetes:

  1. Does anyone in the family have type 2 diabetes? Who has type 2 diabetes?
  2. Has anyone in the family been told they might get diabetes or have prediabetes?
  3. Has anyone in the family been told they need to lower their weight or increase their physical activity to prevent type 2 diabetes?
  4. Did you or your mother get diabetes when pregnant?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” let your health care team know. Also, ask if you should have a blood test for type 2 diabetes.


If you or a loved one is at risk for diabetes, you can prepare meals that are low in fat and calories and high in vitamins and fiber and still taste great. For example, at breakfast, try a whole-grain cereal with low-fat or skim milk. For lunch, choose a sandwich made with a lower fat lunch meat or tuna on whole wheat bread instead of a burger and fries. At dinner, you can choose many foods for a healthy meal. One idea is to fill your dinner plate:

  • one half with vegetables and fruit;
  • one quarter with a starch or carb; and one quarter with a protein, such as lean meat, poultry without the skin, fish, or dried beans and peas.


Add fiber by using whole-grain foods, such as brown rice. Bake, broil, or grill meat, poultry, or fish. Choose low-fat or skim milk or water to drink instead of soda or juice. You can find recipes that the whole family can enjoy in NDEP’s free recipe booklet, Tasty Recipes, available in English and Spanish. See below for ordering information.


Being active at least 30 minutes, five days per week can help you burn calories and lower your risk for type 2 diabetes. Children need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Go for a brisk walk or bike ride. Take your children and grandchildren to the park or teach them the outdoor games you used to play. Limit the time you spend watching TV and on the computer. Play physically active video game activities, such as those in which you dance together, or turn up the music and jam to the beat of NDEP’s Step by Step music CD or a family favorite

Although these ideas may sound simple, doing the things you need to do to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes is not easy. Make a plan with your family and support each other to stick with it. Take it one step and one day at a time. It may not be easy, but it is worth it – to you and your family members.

For more information about lowering your risk for type 2 diabetes and to order the free materials listed above, visit the NDEP at www.YourDiabetesInfo.org or call 1-888- 693-NDEP (1-888-693-6337).

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Diabetes Education Program is jointly sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with the support of more than 200 partner organizations.

Ms. Martha Funnell is a Research Investigator for the Department of Medical Education of the University of Michigan Medical School, clinical nurse specialist, diabetes educator, adjunct lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Nursing, and Co-Director for the Behavioral, Clinical, and Health Systems Intervention Research Core at the Michigan Diabetes Research and Training Center. She is chair of the National Diabetes Education Program. Ms. Funnell has won numerous honors and awards, has made more than 180 national and international presentations to health professionals, and has authored more than 150 publications.