It is probably safe to say that if you live in the United States, you know somebody affected by diabetes.
By 2012, more than 21 million Americans had been diagnosed with the disease, another eight million (estimated) were sick but undiagnosed, and a staggering 86 million had developed prediabetes, a stage in which blood glucose levels begin to climb. With roughly 1.7 million new cases per year, health experts agree: Diabetes has reached epidemic proportions.
Most of these cases fall into the category of type 2 diabetes, and of those, a substantial number are associated with being overweight or obese. Of even greater concern, the number of youth developing type 2 — once a disease known only to adults — has also been on the rise; this, too, is associated with excess weight gain.
But there is good news within the bad: Losing weight and increasing physical activity can alter the course of this disease and lower the risk for developing it in the first place. Medications have also been shown to be effective in helping to lower weight, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and, for those who have diabetes, keep blood glucose levels under control. Diabetes does not need to be a death sentence.
OTHER TYPES OF DIABETES
While the vast majority of people who have diabetes have type 2 (about 95 percent), there are other types of diabetes. Type 1, which affects about five percent of those with diabetes, often shows up during childhood or early adulthood. Unlike type 2, type 1 cannot be prevented. Type 1 occurs when the body cannot produce enough insulin, a hormone needed to turn the food we eat into energy. Type 2 occurs when the body fails to use the insulin it has. In both cases, excess glucose builds up in the bloodstream and can damage other parts of the body.
During pregnancy, women who don’t have diabetes can develop what’s called gestational diabetes, in which blood glucose levels rise while the baby is growing. This type of diabetes typically goes away after the birth, but both mother and child will be at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life. It’s important to treat gestational diabetes because it can cause birth defects and other problems.
WHO’S AT RISK
In addition to being overweight or obese, a number of factors can raise a person’s risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Family history, getting older and belonging to certain minority and ethnic groups increase the odds of developing type 2. African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are disproportionately affected.