By Dawn Hollaway, RN, BSN, MPH, CDE
According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes is the fastest-growing health care crisis of the 21st century. Approximately 75 million Americans have it or are at risk for developing it. The disease currently is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States.
Unfortunately, the health care industry is not only seeing a dramatic increase in the number of individuals with type 2 diabetes, but the age at diagnosis is decreasing - meaning more children are being diagnosed. According to the ADA, up to 15-20 percent of America’s teens 12-18 years of age are overweight, and this averages out to more than 5 million children.
When it comes to diagnosing the disease, all individuals with diabetes do not experience symptoms. But, some individuals with type 2 diabetes can have elevated sugar levels for three to five years prior to being diagnosed. Classic symptoms of elevated blood glucose, or sugar,- levels that you might notice popping up in your daily routine are frequent urination, dry mouth and extreme thirst, extreme tiredness, extreme hunger, blurred vision, sores and cuts not healing properly, and pain, numbness, or tingling in the legs and feet.
And while the disease’s incidence rate continues to rise, it’s important to remember that there are some things that predispose an individual to developing type 2 diabetes. Those risk factors include having a family history of the disease, central obesity, having high blood pressure or high cholesterol, being 40 years or older, being a female with a history of gestational diabetes or delivering a baby weighing 9 pounds or more, and being American Indian, Hispanic/Latino, African American and Asian/Pacific Islander.
There are ways to control the onset of the disease - or eliminate it completely. First, lower your risk by making gradual diet changes. This includes reducing the portion sizes of the foods you eat, decreasing carbohydrate and fat intake, and substituting diet soft drinks in place of regular drinks.
Other ways to lower your diabetes risk include increasing activity. Increasing your activity does not necessarily have to be going to the gym daily to work out. Using the stairs instead of the elevators, and parking farther away at the store are just two examples of ways we can increase our activity on a daily basis. Studies have shown that if people who are at risk for type 2 diabetes lose 5 to 10 percent of their body weight and increase their activity on a regular basis, they can prevent or delay the development of type 2 diabetes. For patients with diabetes, just 15 to 20 minutes of moderate physical activity can lower blood sugar levels approximately 30 to 40 points.
And while incorporating more exercise into your routine, remember, exercise not only helps with losing weight, lowering blood pressure, overall cholesterol and triglyceride levels, it also increases our HDL level, or good cholesterol, and lowers our LDL, or bad cholesterol. Other ways to do this include using canola, avocado and olive oils and eating more fiber.
For diabetes-related questions or program information, call 865-977-5767.
Dawn Hollaway is a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator at the Blount Memorial Diabetes Management Center, where she also serves as program coordinator. She also holds a master’s degree in public health.