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Study: Diet, exercise can delay diabetes

Luis Fábregas
| Thursday, Oct. 29, 2009

He had to give up his favorite breakfast buffet and take up walking, but the payoff has been priceless for Jim Scheder.

The retired truck driver from Carrick staved off diabetes, an illness that afflicted his late father.

"I don't want diabetes," said Scheder, 81. "Years ago, they told me I had borderline diabetes. Everything turned out OK and I forgot about it. Then I read about diabetes in the paper and I thought, 'Gee, it's about time to check on that again.' "

Scheder is one of more than 2,700 Americans enrolled in the country's largest-ever study of type 2 diabetes prevention, started at 27 sites including the University of Pittsburgh. After analyzing data for a record 10 years, researchers found that millions of overweight people can delay diabetes for years if they lose a modest amount through diet and exercise.

About 24 million people in the United States have diabetes, and 57 million are at risk of it.

The study, known as the Diabetes Prevention Program Outcomes Study and sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, includes 159 participants in the Pittsburgh region. Results are being published today in the journal The Lancet.

The study concluded that lowering fat and calories in the diet and increasing regular exercise to 150 minutes a week cut the rate of developing type 2 diabetes by 34 percent in overweight and obese people. Those who took the diabetes drug metformin reduced the rate of developing the disease by 18 percent.

"People are getting the message," said Elizabeth Venditti, a psychiatry professor at Pitt who directed part of the study. She worked with Trevor Orchard, the principal investigator at Pitt's Graduate School of Public Health.

"These individuals are regular folks who have decided to put a healthy lifestyle on the front burner, and in doing so, they continue to have good health," Venditti said.

Researchers are following patients for an additional five years, with the hope of learning more about their risks for cardiovascular disease, she said.

The benefits of lifestyle changes were particularly pronounced in Scheder's group — those 60 and older.

"You get a high level of dedication from this group," she said.

Scheder, who weighed about 200 pounds, dropped 20 when he started keeping a journal of every meal, reduced red meat consumption and started eating more fruits and vegetables. He joined a walking club that gets together twice a week for an hour.

"I can feel the difference when I get off my diet," he said. "It's a mindset."

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