WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Americans at high risk for adult onset diabetes, known as Type 2 diabetes, can sharply lower their chances of getting the disease with a low-fat diet and daily exercise as an alternative to drug treatment, a new study showed Wednesday.
A report released by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson found a 58 percent risk reduction among those who adapted so-called intensive lifestyle changes. Risk reduction hit a dramatic 71 percent in people age 60 and older who used diet and exercise to delay the onset of diabetes.
Participants who were taking the oral diabetes medication Glucophage to reduce their risk saw a 31 percent reduction.
The study was released a year earlier than planned because of what its sponsors called "highly positive results."
"In view of the rapidly rising rates of obesity and diabetes in America, this good news could not have come at a better time," Thompson said. "So many of our health problems can be avoided through diet, exercise and making sure we take care of ourselves. By promoting healthy lifestyles, we can improve the quality of life for all Americans, and reduce health care costs dramatically."
The lifestyle intervention group maintained their physical activity by just 30 minutes of daily exercise that usually consisted of walking, and were told to lower their fat intake to less than 25 percent of their caloric intake. They also lost five to seven percent of their body weight.
"These are relatively modest changes, said Dr. Allen Spiegel, director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases, "and so I think that the message that needs to go out to the American people and particularly those at high risk for development for Type 2 diabetes, is that you really with modest changes in lifestyle and exercise can prevent this dreaded disease."
The study involved 3,200 volunteers who participated in the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) who were randomly divided into three groups:
--Intensive lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise.
--Treatment with Glucophage (850mg) twice a day.
--Control group taking a placebo pill in place of the Glucophage.
All of the study participants were overweight and had impaired glucose tolerance, a condition that is often a precursor to diabetes. Of the study participants, 45 percent were from minority groups that suffer disproportionately from Type 2 diabetes. African-Americans have a 60 percent higher rate of Type 2 diabetes than whites. Hispanic Americans face a rate 90 percent higher than whites.
Other groups also known to be at high risk are people 60 and older, women who developed diabetes during pregnancy, and people with a first degree relative with Type 2 diabetes.
What was meant to be a five-year trial ended a year early because the data suggested all the main research questions had been answered.
There are over 16 million people in the United States suffering from diabetes. It is the primary cause of kidney failure, limb amputations, new onset blindness in adults and a major cause of stroke and heart attack.