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How the Diabetes Epidemic Is Changing U.S. Health Care

In the United States, there are almost 30 million people with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, but this number continues to grow at an unprecedented rate. Neither form of this disease is curable, but there are various treatments that allow many patients to manage their condition and minimize symptoms like loss of vision, nerve damage or heart disease. Almost one in four people with diabetes do not know that they have this health condition. Without proper care, patients with this chronic illness could slip into a coma or die.

Currently, diabetes is the most expensive health condition in the U.S. with almost one in four health care dollars spent on diabetic patients. This enormous drain on public health resources could be reduced if the American obesity epidemic could be reined in. Ultimately, this begins with better educating the public about irresponsible eating habits, but also includes appropriate testing among susceptible populations and more targeted care.

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes is essentially an inability to metabolize and regulate carbohydrates. Normally, the human body will release insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, to break down sugars when they reach a threshold level. However, diabetics lose this ability, leaving high levels of sugar in the blood which can produce serious health conditions if left untreated.

Type 1 diabetes is known as juvenile diabetes because it usually identified in children or young adults. For these patients, a genetic disorder causes their immune system to attack their pancreas, eliminating the ability to naturally produce insulin. Type 1 diabetics must take insulin daily to survive.

Type 2 diabetes is the more common form of the illness and may appear at any age. This health condition is often a result of over-consumption of sugar leading to a loss of insulin production or blood sugar regulation. This health condition prevents your body from efficiently metabolizing sugar because your cells have grown resistant to insulin.
The Diabetes Epidemic

Currently in the U.S., 27 million people have type 2 diabetes, but more than 86 million are considered pre-diabetic because they have blood sugar higher than normal but don’t meet the threshold for diabetes. This serious illness kills more Americans annually than breast cancer and AIDS combined. This disease is quickly becoming the most lethal in human history.
This disease is already affecting ten percent of the U.S. population, but this number is growing at a phenomenal rate. More than two million more diabetes diagnoses are made every year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predict that the number of Americans with diabetes will grow to 55 million over the next ten years.

Although there is evidence that heredity has some influence on susceptibility for diabetes, the overwhelming factor for getting this chronic illness is lifestyle. In many modern societies where people lead sedentary lives with little opportunity for physical activity, the rates of diabetes are rapidly climbing. Diabetes is closely linked to obesity and diets rich in sugars and starches.
How Health Care Needs to Change to Stop the Diabetes Epidemic

The scope of this burgeoning public health crisis is well known in the medical community, but changes necessary to stem the tide of this epidemic are being made at a glacial pace. Most physicians can readily identify patients with the highest risk of developing diabetes, but most fail to convince these high-risk patients to modify diet or sedentary lifestyle habits that contribute to this risk. This is in part due to limited time and resources on the part of medical professionals, but there is also a significant education gap among the public due to a limited public health effort to inform those at the most risk.

The Diabetes Epidemic

The lack of information or an abundance of incorrect information about diabetes may persist even after a diagnosis. Many people listen to word-of-mouth or internet rumors that instill a false sense of security. For example, many people incorrectly believe that there is a cure for diabetes or that living with the disease is a minor inconvenience—or even one they can ignore.

There are also some social factors that are inhibiting the free flow of information about diabetes. More people with this illness are reluctant to talk about their condition in an effort to avoid embarrassment. “Diabetic shaming” is becoming more predominant as more of society equates healthiness with social acceptability.

Even the medical community needs to implement changes so that optimal care can be delivered. Public health officials should raise awareness about risk assessment tests that can identify high-risk candidates. More effort needs to be applied to educating high-risk patients and, especially, pre-diabetics. Many diabetic patients often receive their care in a hospital setting when a doctor’s office or other outpatient facility would be more appropriate and cost-effective.

How to Lower Your Risk for Diabetes

The most important thing you can do to lower your risk for diabetes is learn as much as possible about the illness. This should start with an honest, in-depth discussion with your doctor about your diet, exercise habits and general lifestyle. If you have family members with diabetes, be sure to discuss your genetics with your doctor (it may mean you have a higher risk). You may find a wealth of information on the internet but confirm any information with a medical authority.

How Health Care Needs to Change to Stop the Diabetes Epidemic

Listen to your physician’s recommendations. If you are overweight, then pinpoint your ideal weight and implement a plan to achieve it. If necessary, you may want to consult with a nutritionist or hire a personal trainer to help motivate you. Make small but enduring changes to your diet over time; most people find it difficult to completely revamp all of their eating habits at once, but minor changes over a longer period is considerably easier. Similarly, if you need to start a fitness program, start off slowly and gradually increase it.

If you would like to learn more about diabetes prevention and care, please visit Boost Health Insurance.

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