The worldwide epidemic of diabetes is having devastating consequences for public health in both developed and developing countries. At least 171 million people worldwide suffer from diabetes, and this is expected to reach 366 million by 2030 according to the World Health Organization.
When so many of us are overweight, the risk of getting diabetes is real and immediate: A woman who is mildly obese – for example, weighing 190 at 5’6” tall – has a 55 percent chance of getting diabetes. A man who is mildly obese – for instance, who weighs 225 pounds and is 6’ tall – has a 57 percent chance of developing diabetes.
The alarming rise in obesity, poor dietary habits, and lack of exercise has created a diabetes epidemic that shocks medical experts.
The latest studies show the scope of the problem:
- There are 21 million diabetics and 41 million people at risk of becoming diabetic in the United States.
- From 1997 through 2004, new cases of diagnosed diabetes increased by 54 percent.
- One out of three American children born in the year 2000 is predicted to develop diabetes during his or her lifetime. For children of African-American, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American descent, the odds are closer to one in two.
- Diabetes is predicted to increase by 481 percent among Hispanics, 208 percent among blacks, and 113 percent among whites by mid century.
- The estimated total cost of diabetes rose from $23 billion in 1969 to $132 billion in 2002 and is expected to reach $192 billion by 2020.
However, it is in the human cost to the individual and that individual’s family where diabetes takes its terrible toll.
- Diabetes is the No.1 cause of blindness, kidney failure, amputations, and nerve disease in the United States.
- It causes damage to the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and nerves.
- A diagnosis of diabetes doubles your risk of dying over the next 10 years.
What makes this so unacceptable is that type 2 diabetes, the form of the disease responsible for this epidemic, is almost totally preventable. Staying fit and lean reduces your odds of developing diabetes by more than 90 percent.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when cells do not respond normally to insulin, a hormone made by your pancreas. This condition is called insulin resistance and it leads to high blood sugar, high blood levels of fat (triglycerides) and high blood pressure. Once it was a disease seen only in people over 40 and referred to as “adult-onset diabetes”. Today, type 2 diabetes occurs in young children. Almost half of the new cases of childhood diabetes are now type 2, reflecting the sharp increase in obesity and lack of physical fitness among our children.
Prevention of type 2 diabetes must become a national priority. We already have the knowledge necessary to reverse the diabetes epidemic. We need to take these steps:
- Increase physical activity. Just 30 minutes of moderate activity like walking, five days a week, can cut your risk of type 2 diabetes in half.
- Adopt a diet rich in vegetables, nuts, and seeds. In contrast, the typical American diet, high in soft drinks including diet soda, white flour, French fries, and processed meats like cold cuts and hot dogs, can increase your risk of developing diabetes by 300 percent.
- Lose weight and maintain a healthy weight. It is estimated that more than half of all cases of type 2 diabetes could be avoided if excessive weight gain in adults could be prevented.
These steps prevent type 2 diabetes by preventing insulin resistance. When your diet is high in sucrose (table sugar), saturated fat (the kind of fat found in meat and butter), and white starchy foods like white bread and potatoes, you increase your chances of developing insulin resistance.
Eating a diet high in fiber, omega-3 fats (the kind found in flax seed and in fish) and carotenoids (the yellow, orange, and red colors in many fruits and vegetables) reduces your chances of developing insulin resistance. For many Americans, adopting a healthier diet is a radical change, with sacrifices such as swapping a salad and vegetable juice for a burger and a shake. But the positive results are equally radical in terms of weight loss, improved health, and reduction in diabetes risk.