Diabetes on the Rise But Americans Not Doing Enough To Prevent the Disease

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New data has been released by Public Health Management Corporation’s (PHMC) Community Health Data Base about the prevalence of diabetes and risk factors among a certain group of adults located in Southeastern Pennsylvania. However, it is likely that the correlations drawn from this survey apply to most areas of the country. Type 2 diabetes prevalence is rising, and there is so much we can do as individuals to prevent the disease.

Diabetes, a condition of chronic high blood sugar, affects approximately 26 million Americans, or 8.3% of the population. Around the world, the disease is responsible for 4.6 million deaths every year – or about one every seven seconds. There have been predictions that by the year 2025, diabetes will affect 53.1 million Americans, unless we decide to begin making changes now.

"Obviously, we aren't doing enough to convince people they need to make changes in their lives," said Robert Rizza, MD, President, Medicine & Science of the American Diabetes Association (ADA). "Diabetes is a chronic and often debilitating disease that can cut short your life. The fact that we know how to prevent type 2 diabetes and we're still seeing this kind of increase is devastating."

Obesity and high blood pressure are two factors correlated with Type 2 diabetes. Adults who are obese are nearly five times more likely to have diabetes than those with a normal weight (21.4% compared with 4.3%, respectively). People with high blood pressure are also five times more likely to have diabetes than those with normal blood pressure levels. (24.1% versus 4.8%).

Obesity is more likely to affect diabetes risk when it is excess fat accumulated around the abdominal organs – also known as visceral fat. Have excess weight around the waistline (versus in the hips and thighs) increases the risk of metabolic syndrome (a combination of risk factors that includes high blood sugar which increases the risk of heart disease) and greater insulin resistance (leading to even higher blood sugar levels).

High blood pressure goes hand-in-hand with both obesity and diabetes. Combined, they do even more bodily damage as all three are associated with an increased risk in other diseases such as Alzheimer’s and retinopathy which can bring about blindness.

An interesting fact that came from the PHMC survey – although the majority of patients diagnosed with diabetes have a regular source of care (93%), only 81% will regularly visit their primary care doctor. Many adults visit a community health center, hospital outpatient clinic, or emergency room for care. This may have to do with the fact that adults living in poverty are more likely to have diabetes than those above the federal poverty level.

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Financial barriers are a major concern for which, unfortunately, there is no simple answer during these tough economic times. Some estimates suggest that a person with diabetes spends over $4000 more each year in medical expenses than those without the condition. Another study found that those with diabetes actually also earn less than those without – about $1500 to $6000 less each year, which can add up significantly over the course of a lifetime.

But you can take efforts to control diabetes in your own home with simple and inexpensive methods. This can cut down on the amount of money spent on medications, reduce the number of trips to the doctor’s office or emergency room, and can improve your own personal health outcome and quality of life.

First, set out to improve your diet the best you can. Many people associate “eating healthy” with spending more money. However, there are easy steps to take to improve the diet without spending a lot of cash. First and foremost, begin to weed out your pantry of junk foods, such as potato chips, cookies, and candy. Americans spend about $2 billion in junk food and alcohol alone, per a Gallup study released earlier this year. Take the money you save and spend a little on fresh fruits and vegetables when you can. Take advantage of seasonal prices and sales. When fresh is cost-prohibitive, frozen vegetables and canned fruit (packed in juice, not syrup) are a suitable stand-in.

You can also save money by buying less meat and more beans. A study out recently highlights the benefits of a vegetarian diet on both blood sugar levels and weight and a separate study focused specifically on the positive effect beans have on the health of diabetics.

Second, get more physical activity during the day – no excuses. Diabetics who exercise live much longer than those who do not. If you live in a neighborhood that is not safe to go for a walk, try heading to the local mall for a few laps. If you are homebound, do a few simple exercises in the living room during commercials. If you are working, each hour, take a five-minute walking break instead of a smoke or coffee break. If you are disabled, work with a professional on exercises that are appropriate for you (many community health centers have references).

Third, if you smoke, please stop. There is a link between nicotine from tobacco and persistently elevated high blood sugar levels, which leads to an increased risk of diabetes complications. Smoking is also very expensive, not only for the cigarettes themselves, but also because smokers tend to have higher medical costs than non-smokers.

Fourth, get support. Support groups are often free and are extremely valuable resources for tips on managing diabetes at home. Having a network of family and friends to encourage you along the journey also will help you with the motivation you need to stick to the plan.

Fifth, even though your current diabetes medications may be expensive, continue to take them as directed. Complications from NOT taking them are much more expensive. With a few simple lifestyle changes, even if you don’t see the weight drop, you will likely see an improvement in blood sugar levels which may eventually help you wean off the drugs, saving that money for more healthy fruits and vegetables!

References:
Public Health Management Corporation Press Release
*National Diabetes Education Program. (2012) The Facts About Diabetes: A leading cause of death in the U.S.

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