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An increasing population of diabetics affect us all


Mary May, R.N.

Recent statistics concerning increases in the world’s population of diabetics are frightening. It now is predicted that by 2034 nearly twice as many Americans will have diabetes. That means the numbers will increase from approximately 24 million to 44 million people in just 25 years.

It’s not only the U.S. which is affected. India has the most people with diabetes – 50.8 million, followed by China with 43.2 million. The U.S., however, spends more on the treatment of diabetes than any other country – a whopping 52.7% of worldwide spending. As the U.S. diabetic population increases to predicted levels, spending is projected to triple from $113 billion today, to $336 billion per year by 2034.

The costs for treating diabetes are rising so rapidly in part because of the many long term complications of the disease. Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure requiring dialysis. It also is a major risk factor in developing heart disease.

Diabetes is well-known for causing vision problems which can lead to blindness. Lesser known complications can be dental issues such as gingivitis and tooth decay.

Nerve disorders, especially neuropathy of the feet and hands, and poor circulation can cause delayed healing of wounds. No wonder diabetes is the leading cause of non-traumatic amputations.

Besides being costly, all of these complications seriously impact quality of life.

What can be done to stop this landslide of compromised health?

Actually, there is hope. We now know 60% of diabetes cases can be prevented with lifestyle changes! The Diabetes Prevention Program has shown that diet and exercise can prevent diabetes. In the 10 year study, overweight people with impaired glucose levels, who lost a modest amount of weight – 5 to7% of body weight, lowered their risk of developing diabetes by one third. People older than 60 years, decreased their risk of developing diabetes even more – by about half.

There are two types of diabetes, Type 1 and Type 2. The majority of the population has Type 2 diabetes, in which the pancreas continues to make insulin. There may not be enough insulin, however, to control blood glucose, or the body may not effectively use the insulin.

A much smaller portion of the population, about 10%, has Type 1 diabetes. This is an autoimmune disease in which the body destroys the insulin producing cells in the pancreas. People with Type 1 diabetes must take insulin to survive.

In the past, only adults were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately, now many children under the age of 18 are being diagnosed with it. It’s predicted that one out of three children born in 2000 will get diabetes in their lifetime. Lifestyle is given as the main reason for this. Children are less active, food choices are high in fat, sugar and empty calories, and serving sizes have become too large.

These are very sad statistics, and the solutions, again – must begin with a change in lifestyle.

Diabetes is a challenging disease to manage, but it can be done. People can manage their diabetes and have a great quality of life. Yes, it can be challenging to pay attention to food intake, exercise 5-7 times a week, monitor blood levels and take medications properly on a daily basis. It’s easy to get sidetracked, get off your program, and slip a bit. We’re all human and it happens to all of us. It helps to have support when the challenges rear their heads.

To help people better manage their diabetes, VVMC has started a diabetes support group. The support group is appropriate for those with diabetes, their support team, and even people concerned with staying healthy. It meets the fourth Monday of every month and includes an hour with a health specialist discussing a topic relevant to diabetes care. The next hour is an informal support group for members to share their frustrations; what does and doesn’t work for them; how they relax and manage stress. People attending vary greatly in their experiences with diabetes. Some have had diabetes for many years, while some have just been diagnosed and have many questions and concerns. The variety of the group members and their experiences is invaluable.

All holidays are most challenging for people with diabetes to stay on track and keep to usual routines. Besides getting help from your support team, some ideas include:

- Make the holidays more about socializing, catching up with old friends and less about food.
- In order to do that, have a healthy snack before you go to the party, something like raw vegetables with a low fat dressing for dip.
- Even better, bring a dish to the party that you know is healthy and part of your program.
- Play it safe with alcohol. Too much alcohol can lower blood sugar in people who take insulin and certain other medications for diabetes. It is best to limit alcohol to one drink for women and two for men. If you know you will have a drink, you must be sure to eat something first.
- Try using a smaller plate. This can help reduce portion sizes without making it feel like you’re skimping.
- Avoid socializing near the food. This will prevent you from grazing while you’re talking.
- If you do overindulge, just get back on your program the next day. Add some extra activity and return to your usual healthy meal plan.

Diabetes does affect all of us. Learn more about diabetes to support those who meet its challenges every day. Have a happy and healthy holiday season and 2010.

Certified Diabetes Educator Mary May, RN, has been a nurse for more than 30 years and a diabetes educator for 10. May provides inpatient and outpatient diabetes education at VVMC. She also is part of the team teaching “Living Well with Diabetes” classes, and is the facilitator for VVMC’s Diabetic Support Group.



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