Even when patients are on the cusp of developing diabetes, most don't know it. What's more, most aren't taking steps to prevent it, new research shows.

The research published in the April issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that only about half of those with prediabetes said they had tried to drop pounds or boost their exercise level to try to prevent the condition.

Up to six million Canadians have prediabetes, says the Canadian Diabetes Association. The condition, marked by blood glucose levels that are higher than normal, will lead to full diabetes in about 25 per cent of people within three to five years if left untreated.

Researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Emory University, and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases wanted to know whether people with prediabetes were adopting preventive measures.

So they surveyed 1,402 people identified from blood test as having prediabetes. They asked them whether in the past 12 months, they had taken any of the steps that can help prevent prediabetes from progressing.

The patients were also asked if they had been screened for diabetes or high blood sugar in the past three years.

Among the group surveyed, just 7 per cent said they had been told they had prediabetes. That suggests that more than 90 per cent of people with the condition have no idea.

When asked if they had taken one of the following three diabetes prevention measures in the last 12 months, only about half said yes:

  • Tried to lose or control their weight (52 per cent)
  • Reduced the amount of fat or calories in their diet (55 per cent)
  • Increased physical activity or exercise (49 per cent)

The researchers also found that the majority did not receive any advice about diabetes risk reduction from their health care provider in the past year. And only 48 per cent of those with prediabetes had been tested for diabetes or high blood sugar in the preceding three years.

The researchers found that people with prediabetes tended to be older, were more likely to be men, and often had heart disease risk factors, such as higher weight, waist size, systolic blood pressure and triglyceride levels.

No ethnicity or race was more likely to have the condition, they found.

The researchers say that reversing the growing diabetes problem will require interventions, including promotion of healthy lifestyles and more community prevention programs for people at high risk.

"More efficient identification and awareness of prediabetes is a key first step to implementing these changes," they write.

People with prediabetes stage can delay or prevent the development of type 2 diabetes with lifestyle changes and, if required, medication.

According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, studies have shown that through moderate weight loss and regular exercise, the onset of type 2 diabetes can be delayed by up to 58 per cent.