Diabetes Prevalence & Prevention

Health, Home & Family
on April 25, 2004

Diabetes is a familiar subject for Arline Y. Lillibridge. Her father had the disease for 30 years, as did most of his brothers and sisters, and she was diagnosed with Type II diabetes two years ago.

Still, Lillibridge doesnt let diabeteswhich affects more than one in every 20 Americansrule her life. In fact, she tries to stay in charge by watching her diet and staying active in her hometown of East Granby, Conn. (pop. 4,745).

Exercise is critical, says Lillibridge, 64, who attends a water fitness class twice a week and builds walking and other activity into her day. A gourmet cook, she also assesses favorite recipes for healthier ways to prepare food that is lower in fat and calories.

I use sweeteners instead of sugar and I get creative with salads, by using different types of lettuce, a few firm cherry tomatoes (the soft ones have more sugar), cucumbers, celery and peppers. Then I add a chicken breast cooked on the grill. She also mixes her own salad dressing to avoid the excess sugar and fat in some products.

In addition to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, Lillibridge takes an oral medicationprescribed by her doctordaily that helps her body use the insulin it produces.

Being healthy takes discipline and commitment, she says. My motivation is I want to live and have a long, happy, healthy life.

Preventing diabetes

Ninety percent of the time diabetes is a preventable disease. People can reduce their risk of developing the disease by taking charge of their life, says Carole R. Mensing, a registered nurse and president of healthcare and education for the American Diabetes Association (ADA).

Maintaining weight in a normal range can help reduce a persons risk of developing Type II diabetes and losing just a few pounds can move people out of danger and into the safety zone, says Mensing of Farmington, Conn. (pop. 23,641).

The cause of diabetes is a mystery, although genetics, obesity and lack of exercise play roles, Mensing adds, explaining that people who have diabetes are at greater risk for kidney failure, blindness, heart disease and amputation due to nerve damage and circulatory problems.

Adult or Type II diabetes develops when the body does not properly use the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy. Type II diabetes is the most common form and usually is found among adults. In recent years, a growing number of young people have been diagnosed with Type II diabetes, according to the ADA. Experts attribute lack of exercise and being overweight as the reason.

An estimated 13 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with diabetes, and another 5.2 million have the disease but dont know it, according to the ADA. In addition, 20.1 million Americans have pre-diabetes, which means they are at risk for developing the disease. Diabetes often goes undiagnosed because many of its symptoms seem harmless. They can include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Extreme hunger
  • Unusual weight loss
  • Increased fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Blurry vision

Taking charge

Its important to see a doctor if you think you may have diabetes. The disease can only be confirmed through laboratory tests. In the meantime, people can use these diet and exercise recommendations to reduce their risk of developing the disease:

  • Skip seconds at meals and reduce serving sizes.
  • Snack on vegetables and sugar-free soda.
  • Build meals around lean, broiled meat and plenty of fresh vegetables.
  • Reduce your fat intake by using a butter substitute and cutting out fast food.
  • Be active. Wear a pedometer (which automatically measures the distance you walk) and try to walk 10,000 steps throughout the day by using the stairs, and parking far from your destination.

The path for preventing diabetes for many people is living a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise and a balanced diet, Mensing says. When you do, you decrease your chances of developing diabetes and the life-threatening complications it can cause.