University of Illinois Extension

Preventing Diabetes with Diet and Exercise

Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented, but type 2 diabetes often can be. Maintaining a healthy weight is an important aspect of diabetes treatment for both type 1 and type 2. Losing weight and maintaining the weight loss can also help prevent type 2 diabetes in the first place. This is usually achieved with lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes include eating a healthy diet and getting regular physical activity. Kids and teens have an easier time making lifestyle changes when the whole family participates, and making healthy living a family effort can be beneficial for everyone.

Healthy Eating

Reaching and staying at a healthy weight when young can help a child control his or her weight when older. A child who is at risk for diabetes may be referred to a registered dietitian (RD). The RD will work with the child to develop a personalized eating plan to help meet the child’s goals.

Keep in mind these general tips for a healthy diet:

  • Eat smaller meals and snacks if weight gain is not desired
    • Keep an eye on portion size
    • Share an entrée when dining out
  • Choose healthier options
    • Whole grains instead of white/refined grain products
    • Lean proteins (i.e. boneless skinless chicken or turkey breast, fish, beans, lean cuts of beef)
    • Foods that have been prepared with less fat (broiled or baked instead of breaded or fried)
    • Lower fat milk, yogurt, and cheese
    • Drink more water instead of soda, juice, and other soft drinks
  • Include more colorful fruits and vegetables in the diet
  • Enjoy sweet treats less often and in smaller portions
  • For a printable handout, click here: Preventing and Managing Diabetes with Lifestyle Changes

Physical Activity

Being active has many benefits in kids.

  • Helps maintain weight
  • Helps grow strong bones and muscles
  • Improves mood
  • Increases focus in school
  • Helps with managing stress
  • Improves sleep quality
  • Lowers blood glucose and keeps it close to normal

Children and teens should be active at least 60 minutes per day. This can be easier to achieve if TV and computer times are limited. If a child has not been very active in the past, they should start slowly.

Most importantly, exercise should include activities the child enjoys. For example:

  • Bike riding
  • Walking or hiking
  • Skateboarding, rollerblading, or ice skating
  • Dancing
  • Bowling
  • Team sports
  • Virtual exercise through active video games
  • Joining active programs like swim clubs, YMCA, 4-H, Boy or Girl Scouts, or Boys and Girls Clubs

Physical activity can also be an opportunity to bond with family. For example, playing a game of basketball together or going for a family bike ride.