November is American Diabetes Month. For those of you who know me well, you are probably aware that diabetes prevention and education is a subject about which I am very passionate.
My interest in diabetes began 15 years ago as a health coach when I found that many of my coaches with diabetes struggled to truly understand their conditions. That meant I needed to understand and be able to explain it, as well as know what resources were available for referral. Several years later a dear friend of mine was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. I watched in awe how his determination to make healthier lifestyle choices resulted in a transformation. Not only was he off his oral medication, but he was more vital than ever.
In 2010, diabetes became very personal for me as my husband was diagnosed with Type 1. I remember how members of our extended family repeatedly inquired about his health. Sure I had noticed the weight loss, but I shrugged it off as a result of stress and a busy schedule. It wasn’t until he mentioned how thirsty he always was that I thought he might have diabetes. Ironically, at the same time he was teaching his students about the symptoms of diabetes and mentally began to check off the ones he had. Blood tests confirmed what we had already thought, but unlike my friend, no amount of diet and exercise would eliminate the need for medication. He needed to take insulin. Every day. For the rest of his life.
Type 1 diabetes is not very common—only 5% of those with this disease have Type 1. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas and destroys them. Insulin is the hormone needed to convert sugar (glucose) into energy for the body.
In Type 2 diabetes, the body either does not produce enough insulin or the insulin is not recognized by the body’s cells. Exactly why this happens is unknown, although excess weight and inactivity seem to be contributing factors.
The U.S. is facing a diabetes epidemic. In the last five years, the number of Americans with diabetes has increased by 27%. This is an alarming rate of growth. Consider the following facts from the American Diabetes Association:
- If current trends continue, as many as 1 in 3 American adults will have diabetes by the year 2050.
- The economic cost of diagnosed diabetes in the U.S. is $245 billion each year
- $176 billion in direct costs
- $69 billion in indirect costs (disability, lost productivity, premature mortality)
- People with diagnosed diabetes have health care costs 2.3 times higher than those without the condition
- 1 in 10 health care dollars is spent treating diabetes
- 1 in 5 health care dollars is spent caring for people with diabetes
- Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure and new cases of blindness
- Diabetes kills more Americans every year than AIDS and breast cancer combined
- Pre-diabetes—blood glucose levels that are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes—is almost always present in people before they develop Type 2
While these aren’t all of the facts, you get the picture. The good news is that Type 2 can be prevented and well-managed through lifestyle. And it isn’t as difficult at you might think. A person can cut their risk of Type 2 diabetes in half by losing 7% of their body weight and exercising moderately 5 days a week!
If you’ve been diagnosed with pre- or type 2 diabetes, there’s hope! You don’t have to let diabetes define you, but you do have to make a choice. A choice to take control. Recognize that you have the authority over your own health. Make that choice. You’re worth it!