November is National Diabetes Month. As a long-time writer on diabetes as well as the granddaughter of two people who died from complications of diabetes, I'd like to make you aware of the extent of the problem and what you can do to help yourself and your family.
Because of video games, fast food, jobs that use computers, larger servings at restaurants, and many, many other factors, Americans today are less active and weigh more than ever before.
Diabetes rates are shooting up as a result, particularly in the South. In October, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the rate of newly diagnosed cases of diabetes has nearly doubled in the past ten years. As a result, nearly 24,000,000 Americans now have diabetes. When I first started writing about diabetes, the number was 15,000,000.
Why you should care
You want to avoid getting diabetes if possible because it can lead to or contribute to a host of ills—eye disease, blindness, nerve disease, kidney disease, foot ulcers, amputation, digestive diseases, gum disease and other infections, tooth loss, heart attack, stroke, and depression—as well as disability and even death.
Type 2 diabetes (which is the kind 90% of people with diabetes have) usually comes about when genetic predisposition meets a diabetes-friendly environment.
Thus, your risk of diabetes is higher if it runs in your family or if you belong to an ethnic group particularly prone to getting diabetes. (In the United States, high-risk groups include blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians.)
Genetic predisposition alone is usually not enough to cause diabetes. It needs the right environment to manifest itself. Possible risk factors for type 2 diabetes include excess weight; excess fat around the stomach; a high-calorie diet; being 45 or older; physical inactivity; high blood pressure; high cholesterol levels; heavy alcohol use; lower income; less education; lower social class; living in an urban area; having had a baby weighing more than 9 pounds; and having had temporary diabetes during a pregnancy.
You can calculate your personal risk of diabetes with an interactive risk calculator provided by the American Diabetes Association at
Save your family, save yourself
You cannot change some risk factors. Still, even if you are at high risk, you can lower your chances of getting type 2 diabetes and at the same time become healthier.
Lose weight if you are overweight. Any weight you lose will help, even if you are still overweight. To find out whether you or your children are overweight, use the calculators at
Eat a more healthful diet. To find out what the government currently considers a healthful diet, check out the 2005 Dietary Guidelines at
Burn more calories. A formal exercise program is not the only way to achieve this. Many household, gardening, and lawn chores are calorie burners. So are some fun activities such as sex, dancing, playing tennis, playing certain musical instruments, walking your dog, playing with your children, and walking around a shopping mall. The government’s 2008 report on physical fitness (with hints for increasing yours) can be found at
Know the symptoms. The earlier diabetes is caught, the earlier you can start taking steps to control it and so lessen your chances of complications. Not everyone who gets type 2 diabetes has symptoms. However, when they do, they have some of the following:
•sores that do not heal