Don't be surprised if your doc orders a blood sugar test on your next visit. Today, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) — a panel of experts in preventive and evidence-based medicine — published its recommendation that overweight and obese adults between the ages of 40 and 70 be screened for abnormal blood sugar. Those found to have levels on the high side should then receive intensive behavioral counseling (think: diet and exercise), and those with regular levels should be tested again after three years.
Abnormal blood sugar levels occur when the body doesn't efficiently break down and use sugar you consume from food — aka insulin resistance. If high blood sugar is left untreated, it can result in type 2 diabetes, which in turn can lead to other chronic conditions, such as heart disease. The good news is that a host of studies have found that lifestyle interventions, including eating nutrient-rich foods and increasing physical activity, can normalize blood sugar levels.
This recommendation comes at a time when the number of Americans dealing with type 2 diabetes has reached epidemic proportions. A study published in September's JAMA found that almost half of the American population has either diabetes or prediabetes. What's worse, 38 percent of American adults have no idea they even have prediabetes in the first place and are at high risk of developing full-blown diabetes soon.
So can these new USPSTF recommendations turn the tide?
That's the hope. "The blood test is the easy part," says USPSTF member Michael Pignone, MD, MPH, professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina Department of Medicine and chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine. "Without access to the behavioral counseling, these recommendations won't be effective."
How to Get Help and Reduce Your Diabetes Risk
Programs such as the YMCA's Diabetes Prevention Program can help people lose weight and keep it off after the initial counseling sessions, which can decrease their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
"Doctors will have to get inventive to find resources that are in the community that are as effective as the diabetes prevention programs that these recommendations were based on," says Dr. Pignone.
If cost is a concern, your insurance company should cover intensive behavioral counseling because the USPSTF grades this as a B recommendation. (Meaning it is high priority.) Under the Affordable Care Act, all A and B Task Force recommendations for preventive care are supposed to be covered, but check with your insurance company to be 100 percent sure.
But it isn't just the overweight and obese who should have their blood sugar levels checked, according to the USPSTF. You may still be at increased risk for developing diabetes if you:
- Have a family history of diabetes
- Have a history of gestational diabetes or polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Are African American, American Indian or Alaskan Native, Asian American, Hispanic or Latino or Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.
You can also assess your risk in just 30 seconds with the American Diabetes Association's online Diabetes Risk Test, but be sure speak with your doctor to confirm your results.