It's easy to be seduced by findings in September's JAMA that the number of Americans who have diabetes or its precursor, prediabetes, is leveling off. But here's the trouble: It's "leveling off" at almost half the population.
And you wouldn't even necessarily know if you were part of that statistic. According to the study, 36 percent of people with diabetes are undiagnosed. Often, there aren't symptoms. If you're unaware of what's happening in your body (with type 2 diabetes, your body can't use insulin properly, so food doesn't get into hungry cells well and blood sugar builds up), it can be difficult to take steps to manage your blood sugar levels. That's dangerous: Out-of-control blood sugar can raise your risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney and eye damage, and even lead to amputations.
About 38 percent of American adults are currently walking around with prediabetes – meaning their blood sugar levels are inching toward the red zone – and many of them don't know it, either.
Some critics claim the study numbers are inflated because the threshold for entering the prediabetic category has gradually gotten lower, meaning more people fall into it. But what's undeniably true is that far too many people have potential trouble brewing, and it's important to be aware of your risk. The gift of knowing if you're in the prediabetic stage is that the earlier you get diagnosed, the easier it is to manage and possibly even reverse it.
The No. 1 way to get blood sugar in the right place: Lose excess pounds. Also important (you knew this was coming): Get active. Whether you lose weight or not, exercise actually helps your cells open their doors more easily to insulin so you avoid blood sugar hikes.
So are you at risk? You might be surprised. Your age, race and family history can put you into the "watch out" category, even if you're trim, you exercise and you try to eat well.
The best way to know for sure is with a blood test at the doctor's office, but you can get a good idea in just 30 seconds with this online Diabetes Risk Test, created by the American Diabetes Association.