Cut Your Diabetes Risk

Health, Home & Family
on November 4, 2001

Diabetes is nearing epidemic proportions in America, partly because of obesity and sedentary lifestyles. At least 10 million Americans are at high risk, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says.

But the good news is that diet and reasonable exercise can sharply loweras much as 58 percentchances of getting Type 2 diabetes, more commonly known as adult-onset diabetes.

So many of our health problems can be avoided through diet, exercise, and making sure we take care of ourselves, says Tommy G. Thompson, health and human services secretary. By losing 10 or 15 pounds, for example, cutting down on fat intake, and by exercising half an hour a day, people at risk of getting diabetes can significantly reduce their odds.

Diabetes occurs when the body does not produce or properly use insulin, a hormone required to convert sugar, starches, and other food into energy.

Life-threatening complications such as kidney disease, blindness, nerve disease and amputations, heart disease, and stroke can occur if diabetes goes untreated. Its cause remains a mystery, although genetics and environmental factors appear to play roles, the American Diabetes Association says.

Not all diabetes is the same. Type 1 is a disease in which the body produces no insulin and most often occurs in children and young adults. But Type 2, accounting for 90 percent to 95 percent of all cases, results from the bodys inability to make enough, or properly use, insulinand is brought on by age, obesity, and lack of exercise, the diabetes association says.

This is becoming just a catastrophe, warns Dr. Lloyd Van Winkle of Castroville, Texas. We have children developing Type 2 diabetes.

Some people are genetically predisposed for diabetesrates are higher for people of African-American, Latino, and American Indian heritage, and those for whom diabetes runs in their familybut controlling obesity and getting adequate exercise are key for fending it off, Van Winkle says.

We know that even if you carry the genetic predisposition, lifestyle is a huge factor, Van Winkle says. We need to be controlling weight and exercising vigorously, and that doesnt happen in front of the television.

Van Winkle suggests examining your family history (even thin people can get Type 2 diabetes), watching your weight, and exercising enough to get your heart rate up. Check with your doctor if you exhibit any symptoms of diabetes, including excessive thirst and urination, weight loss, slow-healing sores, tingling in the feet, and blurry eyesight.

Choose activities that you like and will stick with, such as exercising with a fitness group, walking, running, or playing basketball, he advises.

Diet and exercise are going to be important, he says. That may sound like a broken record, but its the truth and the fact.