In November, ahead of World Diabetes Day, some well-known landmarks light up in blue to create awareness of diabetes care, prevention and research. It’s important to take notice because an estimated 1.3 million people in South Africa are living with type 2 diabetes and don’t even know. Have you checked your blood glucose recently?

With the high number of people being diagnosed, chances are that you know someone who is pre-diabetic or who has diabetes. Be aware of the factors that open you up to the risks for developing diabetes and make a regular blood glucose test part of your health routine. Don’t follow the crowd when it comes to these five common, but incorrect, ideas about type 2 diabetes:

1.    Type 2 diabetes is “not so bad”

A common myth about diabetes is that type 1 is the “bad” kind and that type 2 is the “less serious” kind. People with type 1 diabetes need insulin injections to control their blood sugar while people with type 2 diabetes can usually control their blood sugar with oral medications and lifestyle changes.

Some people with type 2 diabetes also have to inject insulin as type 2 diabetes can lead to the pancreas no longer producing insulin. All types of diabetes can cause serious health complications, such as heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure, and nerve damage that can result in having to amputate limbs.

2.    Thin people can’t get type 2 diabetes

Being overweight is a major risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. Being even slightly overweight increases the risk by up to five times and being seriously obese increases the risk 60 times, according to research by Harvard School of Public Health.

But being overweight is not the only risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Genetics are just as important. People with a family history of diabetes and people who smoke are at higher risk of developing diabetes.

  1. People with diabetes have to eat small, frequent meals

Both high blood sugar (hyperglycaemia) and low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia) are common in people with diabetes. If you have low blood sugar, eating frequent healthy snacks and meals can help to keep your blood sugar stable. But not everyone with diabetes have to eat small meals and snacks all the time. When there is too much glucose in a person’s blood, frequent snacking will only make it worse. That’s why each person with diabetes has to have their own eating plan that works for their bodies. This can involve anything from regular small meals to fasting.

  1. Eating something really sweet will “give you” diabetes

Eating something sweet will not give you diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition and type 2 diabetes is influenced by genetics and linked to lifestyle factors in 80% of cases. What is important to know here is that a review of research in the journal Diabetes Care indicated that people who had one to two servings of soft drinks a day had a 26% greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Don’t overindulge.

  1. You can’t get type 2 diabetes if you lead a healthy lifestyle

Since lifestyle plays a significant role in type 2 diabetes, it is easy to think that living a healthy lifestyle means you’re immune. Remember, there are other factors that can prevent your pancreas from producing enough insulin or prevent your body from responding to insulin normally. Some medical conditions, for example, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), increase the risk for type 2 diabetes because it’s related to insulin resistance. You could also develop diabetes if you are involved in an accident or develop an illness that damages your pancreas.

In just over a decade from now, the World Health Organization says diabetes will be the seventh leading cause of death in the world. Always look for the facts and for reputable sources when it comes to health information. If you need help to manage diabetes, get guidance from a healthcare professional on suitable programmes that can help.

If you are a member of Discovery Health Medical Scheme you have cover for screening and prevention tests to detect medical conditions early.

Discovery Health Medical Scheme, registration number 1125, is regulated by the Council for Medical Schemes and administered by Discovery Health (Pty) Ltd, registration number 1997/013480/07, an authorised financial services provider.