The Growing Diabetes Risk and How You Can Address the Damage

Posted at February 25, 2009 | Categories : Eating Disorder | 0 Comment

As the rate of obesity in the U.S. continues to climb, medical complications like diabetes grow right alongside it. Nearly 13 percent of adults age 20 and older now have diabetes, adding up to more than 23 million Americans, according to a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Even more frightening is that 40 percent of adults with diabetes don’t even know they have the disease. And an additional 30 percent of adults have pre-diabetes and are on their way to developing blood sugar levels in the diabetic range.

The study, based on 2005-2006 data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) conducted by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, is among the first national studies in decades to measure diabetes risks using not only the fasting blood glucose (FBG) test but also a more accurate and informative two-hour glucose reading from an Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT). The OGTT measures blood glucose two hours after a person drinks a pre-measured sugary beverage.

“We’re facing a diabetes epidemic that shows no signs of abating, judging from the number of individuals with pre-diabetes,” said lead author Catherine Cowie, Ph.D., of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), a part of the NIH.

Risk Factors for Developing Diabetes
The researchers also made the following findings regarding the groups of Americans most affected by diabetes:

  • Diabetes is especially common in the elderly, with nearly one-third of adults age 65 and older having the disease.
  • The prevalence of diabetes in non-Hispanic blacks and Mexican-Americans is about 70 to 80 percent higher than that of non-Hispanic whites.
  • Roughly the same number of men and women suffer from diabetes, but pre-diabetes is more common in men than in women (36 percent compared to 23 percent).
  • Diabetes is uncommon in youth ages 12 to 19, but about 16 percent have pre-diabetes.

“These findings have grave implications for our health care system, which is already struggling to provide care for millions of diabetes patients, many of whom belong to vulnerable groups, such as the elderly or minorities,” said Griffin Rodgers, M.D., director of the NIDDK. “Of paramount importance is the need to curb the obesity epidemic, which is the main factor driving the rise in type 2 diabetes.”

Type 2 diabetes accounts for roughly 95 percent of all diabetes cases and virtually all cases of undiagnosed diabetes. Pre-diabetes, which carries no symptoms, substantially raises the risk of a heart attack or stroke and of developing type 2 diabetes. Experts recommend that people over age 45, as well as those who are under 45, overweight, and have one additional risk factor, get tested for diabetes and pre-diabetes. People are at an increased risk of developing diabetes if they:

  • are age 45 or older
  • have a family history of diabetes
  • are overweight
  • are inactive (exercise less than three times a week)
  • are members of a high-risk ethnic population (e.g., African American, Hispanic/Latino American, American Indian and Alaska Native, Asian American, Pacific Islander)
  • have high blood pressure (140/90 mm/Hg or higher)
  • have an HDL cholesterol less than 35 mg/dL or a triglyceride level 250 mg/dL or higher
  • have had gestational diabetes or have given birth to a baby weighing more than nine pounds
  • have polycystic ovary syndrome (a metabolic disorder that affects the female reproductive system)
  • have acanthosis nigricans (dark, thickened skin around neck or armpits)
  • have a history of disease of the blood vessels to the heart, brain, or legs
  • have had higher-than-normal blood glucose levels in previous tests

Help for Diabetes Sufferers
With serious long-term complications like cardiovascular disease, chronic renal failure, retinal damage (which can lead to blindness), nerve damage, and microvascular damage (which may cause impotence and poor wound healing), type 2 diabetes is a disease that requires careful and comprehensive treatment.

“It’s important to know if you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, because there’s so much you can do to preserve your health,” said Joanne Gallivan, M.S., R.D., director of the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) for the NIH. “You should talk to your health care professional about your risk. If your blood glucose is high but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes, losing a modest amount of weight and increasing physical activity will greatly lower your risk of getting type 2 diabetes. If you already have diabetes, controlling your blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol will prevent or delay the complications of diabetes.”

The American Diabetes Association reports that almost 90 percent of people newly diagnosed with the disease are overweight or obese. Although overweight and obesity are difficult to overcome, the good news is that a change in lifestyle can produce long-lasting health benefits.

According to a study conducted at Structure House, a renowned residential weight loss facility in Durham, N.C., undergoing a specialized treatment program that combines nutrition, exercise, and behavioral change helps people with type 2 diabetes reduce the number and dosage of diabetic medications, improves diabetic control, and significantly reduces the risk of complications from the disease — all in as little as four weeks.

Structure House’s four-week diabetes program is the only program of its kind offered in the United States. As part of the Structure House program, participants attend a variety of specialized classes on nutrition and exercise, and participate in individual and group therapy, which focuses on strategies to overcome stress and difficult emotions and to improve diabetic control. Each individual also attends weekly educational sessions, where a nurse discusses diabetes-related health issues, and a weekly appointment with an endocrinologist who specializes in diabetes management.

For more information about Structure House and the value of a healthy diet, exercise, and lifestyle change in the fight against diabetes, visit or call (800) 553-0052.

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