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Publication #FCS8574

Healthy Living: Diabetes 1

Linda B. Bobroff, Karla P. Shelnutt, and Paulina Wittkowsky2

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What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition in which the body has difficulty making or using insulin. Insulin is a hormone that controls the amount of glucose (sugar) in our blood. When a person has diabetes, the body makes no insulin, too little insulin, or the insulin it makes does not work right. This results in high blood glucose.

What happens if my blood glucose is high?

Over time, high blood glucose can lead to vision loss or even blindness. It also can harm your kidneys, blood vessels, and nerves. People with diabetes have a higher chance of developing high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease.

Am I at risk for diabetes?

Factors that may increase your risk of developing diabetes are as follows.

  • Heredity – If one of your parents, grandparents, or siblings had diabetes, you are more likely to have the disease.

  • Age – Your body makes less insulin as you age.

  • Race – If you are Hispanic, African American, American Indian, or Asian American, you have a higher risk of developing diabetes.

  • Gestational Diabetes – If you had diabetes while you were pregnant or if you gave birth to a baby weighing nine pounds or more, you have a greater risk of developing the disease later in life.

  • Obesity – Weighing more than is healthy for your height increases your chance of developing diabetes.

What is a healthy weight for me?

People with a large amount of body fat, especially around their waist, are at risk for diseases such as diabetes. Use the chart below (Table 1) to see if your body weight places you at risk for diabetes.

Table 1. 


Healthy Weight (lbs)

Overweight (lbs)


97 to 123

over 148

5' 2”

104 to 131

over 158

5' 4”

110 to 140

over 169

5' 6”

118 to 148

over 179

5' 8”

125 to 158

over 190

5' 10”

132 to 167

over 202


140 to 177

over 213

6' 2”

148 to 186

over 225

For more specific information, see the latest version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans at

How do I know if I have diabetes?

Millions of Americans have diabetes, and about one-fourth of them don't know it! People with diabetes may have different symptoms. They may experience all, some, or none of the following:

  • A need to urinate often (even at night)

  • Constant thirst or hunger

  • Weight loss that cannot be explained

  • Dry or itchy skin

  • Skin infections

  • Slow healing of cuts

  • Numbness or tingling in feet or hands

  • Blurry vision

A doctor can determine if you have diabetes. If you have any of the above symptoms, visit your doctor and find out! The sooner you know that you have diabetes, the sooner you can take charge of your condition. This will help you feel better and lower your risk for health complications.

Can diabetes be cured?

In most cases of diabetes, there is no cure. But diabetes can be controlled. Controlling diabetes means keeping your blood glucose as close to normal as possible. Your doctor will tell you your target for blood glucose control.

Some people can achieve their blood glucose goal with a proper diet and regular exercise. Many people also need oral medication or insulin injections to reach their goals. By controlling your blood glucose, you reduce your risk of health complications.

How can I control diabetes?

  • Keep your blood glucose under control.

  • Lose weight if you are overweight.

  • Be physically active every day.

  • Take medications as prescribed.

  • Have your eyes and your blood pressure checked regularly.

  • Don't smoke!

  • Have a health professional check your feet at least once a year; check them yourself every day.

  • Follow a healthy diet.

  • Have your teeth cleaned and checked at least twice a year.

What is a healthy diet?

  • Low in saturated fat and trans fat.

  • Rich in foods with fiber, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

  • Contains a variety of foods from all of the five food groups (see

  • Balances energy (calorie) intake with physical activity to attain or maintain a healthy body weight.

  • Limits concentrated sweets, such as sugar, honey, candy, regular soft drinks, and sweet tea.

  • Contains few foods high in salt and sodium.

  • No or moderate intake of alcohol. (Ask your health care provider for advice.)

If you have diabetes, a registered dietitian (RD) can design an eating plan that is right for you.

Learn More

Your local county Extension agent – Look for "Cooperative Extension Service" in the blue pages of your telephone book; in Florida you can find your county Extension office at the University of Florida IFAS Extension website:

Area Agencies on Aging – May be listed in the business section in your telephone book; in Florida find your local Area Agency on Aging at the Florida Department of Elder Affairs website:

USDA and USDHHS. Dietary Guidelines for Americans – Available at

American Diabetes Association – Toll free 1-800-DIABETES (1-800-877-1600) (available in Enlish and Spanish). Website:

A registered dietitian (RD) – You can find an RD in your area through the American Dietetic Association at their toll free number, 1-800-366-1655 (available in English and Spanish). Website:



This document is FCS8574, one of a series of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Originally developed with funding from the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, in partnership with state, county, and local agencies, this document was first published in March 2000. Revised March 2011. Reviewed with minor revision, August 2011. Visit the EDIS website at


Linda B. Bobroff, PhD, RD, LD/N, professor; Karla P. Shelnutt, PhD, RD, assistant professor; Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences; Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences; University of Florida; Gainesville, FL 32611; and Paulina Wittkowsky, MS, RD, formerly with the University of Florida.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.