About one in every 12 Americans has diabetes – a largely preventable illness that is collectively exacting a huge cost on us, both fiscally and physically.
With American Diabetes Month being observed during November, it is worth taking a few moments to reflect on the consequences of this serious, widespread illness.
Diabetes is a group of diseases that affects the way the body uses food for energy. Digested food is normally transformed into a simple sugar (glucose) that circulates in the blood where it is absorbed by cells and used as fuel. Insulin, produced by the pancreas, facilitates the movement of the glucose into the cells. In people with diabetes this process breaks down. Either the pancreas produces insufficient insulin or the body becomes resistant to it, leading to high levels of glucose in the blood with the cells unable to use it. It’s an ironic disease in that the cells starve while surrounded by potential nourishment.
There are two types of diabetes. People afflicted with Type 1 have lost their ability to produce insulin and must receive a synthetic substitute, either through an injection or a pump, to survive. Those with Type 2, which constitute about 90 percent of diabetics, can usually control their blood glucose through oral medication and lifestyle changes.
The increase in the rate of diabetes and the increase in the number of obese Americans are directly linked. Consider that more than a third of Americans are obese. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that every state has a population that is at least 20 percent obese. At least 25 percent of adults in 36 states, including Delaware (28 percent), are obese.
Diabetes is a disease that acts as a gateway for many other serious health issues. People with diabetes are at increased risk for heart disease, stroke, hypertension, kidney disease and nervous system damage. Diabetes is especially problematic for the eyes. In fact, diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness for adults between the ages of 20 and 74.
Add to this long and troubling list “mental impairment.” In September, Japanese researchers released findings of their study indicating that people with diabetes are more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s and have an increased risk of suffering from some form of dementia.
Aside from the significant risk to individual health is the shared detrimental impact on healthcare costs and health insurance premiums. Federal health officials estimate diabetes is responsible for $116 billion in annual direct medical costs and an additional $58 billion in indirect costs (e.g. – disability, work loss, premature mortality).
Although there is a genetic link to both types of diabetes, there is some good news. For those with a predisposition for Type 2, there are steps that can be taken to delay onset of the disease or avoid it entirely.
According to the CDC, one large study of people at high risk for diabetes showed that losing weight and increasing physical activity reduced the development of Type 2 diabetes by 58 percent during a three-year period. The reduction was even greater, 71 percent, among adults aged 60 years or older.
For more information on diabetes, as well as healthy eating and exercise tips, visit the American Diabetes Association website by clicking here.
Lincoln Willis is a Republican serving the 29th district in the Delaware House of Representatives.