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4 Lessons From Cities With Low Diabetes Incidences

Get the lowdown on why some communities are living with less disease.

Medically reviewed in February 2022

According to Gallup-Sharecare State of American Well-Being series, four cities in the United States distinguish themselves for having the lowest rates of reported diabetes diagnoses: Boulder, Colorado (4.9 percent); Bellingham, Washington (6.1 percent); Fort Collins, Colorado (6.5 percent); and Provo-Orem, Utah (6.5 percent). What are the residents of these cities doing differently?

Some risks of type 2 diabetes are beyond a person’s control, like race, and family history, but others are modifiable, such as diet, weight and activity level. Take a lesson (or two) from some of the cities in the United States who have very low prevalence of diabetes:

  1. Be active: Physical inactivity is one of the leading risks of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, but it’s an easy fix. To maintain optimal health, and reduce your risk of diabetes, adults are encouraged to get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity—like brisk walking or cycling—each week. Cities with access to parks, bike lanes and walking trails have lower instances of diabetes. Bike or walk to work instead of driving or take your dog to the park after dinner. It doesn’t matter how you add movement to your day—it only matters that you move.
     
  2. Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese—typically categorized in adults as having a body mass index (BMI) between 25 and 29.9 or greater than 30, respectively—increases your risk of diabetes. The rate of obesity in the U.S. has risen since 2008, resulting in nearly one third (28.3 percent) of the population being obese. Not everyone with diabetes is obese, and being obese doesn’t mean you’ll develop diabetes, but there is a strong connection. The cities with the lowest rates of diabetes instances also have lower rates of obesity. Losing just five to seven percent of your total body weight can slice your diabetes risk in half. 
     
  3. Eat better: Obesity, abnormal cholesterol levels and high blood pressure contribute to an elevated risk of diabetes. Although your genes play a role in each of these, your diet also affects these numbers. A simple way to shed pounds is to eat less. Set down your fork and walk away from the table when your stomach is about 80 percent full—this will prevent overeating and stave off weight gain.

    Struggling to manage your blood pressure and cholesterol? Limit your intake of trans and saturated fats, often found in red meat, butter and processed foods. Load your plate with beans, veggies and fruits instead. Additionally, limiting your sodium and added sugar intake goes a long way to keeping cholesterol and blood pressure levels normal and type 2 diabetes at bay.

    You can still have fun in the kitchen by adding a glass of red wine to your meal. Studies suggest, moderate alcohol consumption—one glass a day for women and two for men—may help lower diabetes risk.
     
  4. Stay educated and engaged: Signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes develop over time, and it’s possible to have prediabetes and type 2 diabetes for several years without knowing it. Having diabetes is more than an inconvenience—if left unmanaged, diabetes can cause blindness, kidney failure, nerve damage, heart disease, limb amputation and other health issues. So, it’s important to know the risk factors for type 2 diabetes and which ones you may be predisposed to. Playing an active role in your health and well-being is a step toward preventing diabetes—the more you know, the better you’ll be at taking control of your health. Some US cities have centers that specialize in education, preventive testing and the promotion of sustained healthy lifestyle change. Speak with your healthcare professional to find out how you can manage your diabetes risks and remain disease free, too.

You don’t have to wait for your community to get on board—start today and lower your risk of diabetes and other chronic conditions, like heart disease.

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