LABELLE, FL. -- Several months ago, celebrity chef Paula Deen admitted that she’d been diagnosed with type-2 diabetes. Almost immediately, search volume for the word “diabetes” on Google jumped 60 percent. A few weeks later, “30 Rock” star Alec Baldwin announced that he’d been diagnosed with “pre-diabetes” — meaning he was likely to get the disease unless he changed his eating and exercise habits. It often takes a celebrity to raise the public’s awareness about an issue.
While these “endorsements” are welcome, it’s going to take far more than an occasional high-profile diagnosis to cope with the massive — and almost entirely preventable — diabetes epidemic sweeping our country. It’s going to take a sustained public education campaign on the scale of anti-smoking efforts from decades past.
Make no mistake, when it comes to public-health issues, it doesn’t get much worse than diabetes. In Florida, about 7 percent of the state now has diabetes; many more have pre-diabetes, meaning they are on course to get it. Nationwide, nearly 26 million people have type-2 diabetes, often called adult-onset diabetes. And another 79 million have pre-diabetes. Worse, there are about 7 million Americans who don’t even know they have it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and these numbers are growing fast.
Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure, lower limb amputations and new cases of blindness among adults, and it’s a major cause of heart disease and stroke. The dollar costs are just as staggering. According to a 2009 study, type-2 diabetes costs the health care system $160 billion a year. One in ten health care dollars goes to treat diabetes, as does one-third of Medicare’s budget.
The most troubling thing about this epidemic is that it was mostly avoidable. Diabetes has risen because of the dramatic rise in obesity in the U.S. Scientific literature is now clear on the connection between type-2 diabetes and obesity. Today more than one in three U.S. adults are obese (more than double the number in 1990). In Hendry County, the obesity rate is 38% percent and in Glades County it is 39.6% (the State of Florida the rate is 27.2%).
Instead of treating the cause, patients are given many drugs to treat not just their diabetes, but the high blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease and other ailments that obesity causes. So what can be done to reverse course? Here are some suggestions:
· Combating the diabetes epidemic means getting everyone better educated about the enormity of the risk. Do you think anyone would be indifferent to their weight if they knew it could cost them one of their legs or their eyesight?
· Better screening is needed. The longer diabetes goes undetected and unmanaged, the more likely it will cause serious complications. The American Diabetes Association has a test that simply asks eight basic questions to assess a person’s diabetes risk. (You can find the test at www.diabetes.org). There is also a quick test to see if you are at risk of pre-diabetes atwww.cdc.gov/diabetes/prevention .
· Better health habits are mandatory. Modest changes in weight (losing just 5 to 7 percent of body weight is a benchmark for clinically meaningful weight loss — so someone weighing 200 pounds gets there by losing 10 to 14 pounds) and moderate physical activity (as little as three 10-minute activity sessions daily) not only can help prevent diabetes, but can help better manage it if you already have it therefore cutting down on the drugs needed and the complications.
There is a proven way that helps reduce diabetes risk. A class is being offered by a partnership with the Florida Department of Health in Hendry and Glades Counties and Hendry Regional Medical Center for pre-diabetics. It is a set of free one-hour classes. Call Mary Ruth Prouty at (863) 674-4041 ext.135 or call Angelica Pena (863) 983-1123 to learn more. The classes start on September 9th in LaBelle and in Clewiston. Call now and make the change to help turn the tide on this epidemic and most importantly reduce your risk of diabetes.