Over 3.2 million people have diabetes in the UK and the condition is on the rise thanks to unhealthy lifestyles. Here's a round up the latest lifestyle advice and guidance that can help prevent the condition

Diabetes mellitus is a condition in which the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood is too high because the body cannot use it properly. In diabetes, the hormone insulin, which regulates blood sugar, is not produced in sufficient quantities or is not used effectively by the body. This situation creates high blood glucose levels. There are two types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes: occurs when the body is unable to produce any insulin. It usually develops before the age of 40. It is treated by insulin injections and diet, and regular exercise is recommended
  • Type 2 diabetes: about 90 per cent of people with diabetes have type 2 and, according to Diabetes UK, 11.9 million people in the UK are at risk of developing it. That is 18 per cent of the population. To put those figures into context, for a pharmacy in England with an average sized catchment area that could be around 800 people. Type 2 diabetes develops when the body can still make some insulin, but not enough, or when the insulin that is produced does not work properly. Type 2 diabetes is treated with lifestyle changes. Tablets and/or insulin may also be required.


There is nothing that can be done to prevent type 1 diabetes. However, according to Diabetes UK, three in five cases of type 2 diabetes can be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, and having an active lifestyle. 

Healthy eating

Help customers to think about their diet and identify where and how they could make it healthier. Encourage customers to:

  • Increase consumption of foods high in fibre such as whole grain bread and cereals, beans and lentils, vegetables and fruit
  • Choose foods that are lower in fat and saturated fat, for example, by replacing products high in saturated fat (such as butter, ghee, some margarines or coconut oil) with versions made with vegetable oils that are high in unsaturated fat, or using low-fat spreads
  • Choose skimmed or semi-skimmed milk and low-fat yoghurts, instead of cream and full-fat milk and dairy products
  • Choose fish and lean meats instead of fatty meat and processed meat products (such as sausages and burgers)
  • Grill, bake, poach or steam food instead of frying or roasting (for example, choose a baked potato instead of chips)
  • Avoid food high in fat such as mayonnaise, chips, crisps, pastries, poppadums and samosas
  • Choose fruit, unsalted nuts or low-fat yoghurt as snacks instead of cakes, biscuits or crisps. 

Weight loss

Losing weight will help to prevent diabetes. It is best to lose weight gradually – five to 10 per cent of body weight within one year is realistic and can lead to many health benefits. 

Encourage customers to check their weight and waist measurements periodically. Explain the importance of measuring the waist accurately. For example, it is not the same as belt or waist size in trousers and skirts. Refer customers to the NHS Choices: Why is my waist size important? which explains how to take the measurement. Men with a waist greater than 37 inches (94cm) and women with a waist greater than 31.5 inches (80cm) are at increased risk and should be encouraged to lose weight.

Some customers who are struggling with their weight may benefit from additional support, such as a weight loss support group, a registered dietitian or a type 2 diabetes prevention programme. Find out what services are available in your area.

Physical activity

Exercise is good for everyone but for people at risk of type 2 diabetes, it improves blood glucose control. Combined with healthy eating and portion size control, it also helps people to lose weight.

Walking briskly for 30 minutes on five days each week is recommended as the minimum requirement for adults. The time can be split into five- or 10-minute chunks of activity. Encourage customers to record their physical activity with a pedometer, some of which are available as apps. The NHS recommends 10,000 steps a day, which could burn 500 calories a day or 3,500 calories a week – sufficient to lose about one pound of body fat. The NHS Active 10 app records the number of steps a person takes each day, the time spent on brisk walking and whether a person has managed one or more bursts of 10 minutes activity, for example either walking briskly or on a step machine. While this is less than the recommended 150 minutes activity each week, bouts of brisk activity can bring some health benefits. 

Other activities that can be suggested include:

  • Walk up the stairs rather than taking the lift
  • For short journeys, walk or cycle. On longer journeys, get off the bus or train one stop early or park the car further away
  • Housework, washing the car, decorating and gardening
  • Get a dog!

Once a person has included basic types of physical activity, other activities such as swimming, tennis, going to a gym, football or dancing could be considered.

Learning activities

  • Download an app that records your physical activity. Keep your phone in your pocket and see how active you are
  • Research the opportunities to be physically active in your area. Keep a record in the pharmacy to provide information for customers
  • Can you explain to a customer how to measure their waist circumference?
  • Identify as many ways as possible that customers could use to reduce portion sizes of food.

Originally Published by Training Matters


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