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Get active in fight against diabetes

Here's an Associated Press item from a couple of weeks ago that you may have missed:

ATLANTA — As many as 1 in 3 U.S. adults could have diabetes by 2050, federal officials announced in a dramatic new projection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 10 have diabetes now, but the number could grow to 1 in 5 or even 1 in 3 by mid century if current trends continue. "This is alarming," said Ann Albright, director of the CDC's Division of Diabetes Translation.

No kidding. In just a few decades one in three Americans could have a disease that can lead to blindness, amputations, heart disease and early death?

Where's the pink ribbon-style campaign for diabetes? Why aren't we all raising money and walking miles to beat back this health threat?

I made a few calls and discovered that those who work in the diabetes field weren't surprised by the CDC's bombshell, given the rise in obesity and its role in Type 2 diabetes. Nor were they shocked that diabetes hasn't reached breast cancer's star status.

"The obesity rates in this country have skyrocketed only in the last 30 years,'' said Bill Sacco, a psychology professor at USF who has published research on depression among diabetes patients. "So it's a relatively new phenomenon.''

Plus, he mused, "I don't know if people who have diabetes view it as so lethal. But when people hear 'cancer,' they get frightened.''

Nancy Maza, a certified diabetes educator at Morton Plant Mease Diabetes Education Center, said he's got that right.

"If I had a dollar for every person who came in and told me, 'Gosh, I wish 10 years ago I had taken diabetes seriously,' I'd be a wealthy woman.''

What's going on? Well, Type 2 diabetes often starts without major symptoms. Who wants to sweat over what might happen?

Then there's the shame aspect: Most (but certainly not all) Type 2 diabetics are overweight. And we do persist in thinking — despite all the evidence — that if you weigh too much, it's your own darn fault and you just need to put down those Twinkies, pal.

For a lot of people genetics loads the Type 2 diabetes gun and excess weight pulls the trigger. Personal action is key to keeping the trigger locked, but shame and blame are not good motivators, says Maza, who has 40 years of experience as a registered dietitian.

"People give themselves such unrealistic expectations with weight management,'' she told me. "The higher the goal they set for themselves, the less likely they'll meet it, and when they don't, they give up and go back to their old ways.''

Sacco's work shows that when diabetics can't make the lifestyle changes to control the disease, "it affects the way they view themselves.'' And that can lead to depression. So can the health complications that can arise from uncontrolled diabetes.

Imagine making major diet and exercise changes when you're in despair, and you might see why people struggle.

November is Diabetes Awareness Month, and so we're seeing lots of helpful public service announcements and campaigns. Pay attention, especially if the condition runs in your family. Even if you think you feel okay, summon up your courage and get tested. A lot of people wander around undiagnosed for years, giving the disease time to do its damage. (Go to www.diabetes.org for a risk tool.)

You might be pleasantly surprised at the impact you can make with some pretty modest changes — especially if you're "at risk of diabetes,'' formerly known as prediabetic.

"Usually just a 5 to 7 percent decrease in weight can really decrease the diabetes risk by double,'' said Maza. That means about a 10- to 14-pound loss if you're 200 pounds.

Maza urges her clients never to go hungry. "My biggest advice is not to go longer than five hours without eating.''

And you have to move. "The more physical that you can be, the better you're going to save your insulin power, so to speak.''

A friend of mine who struggles with Type 2 diabetes told me it's tough to deal with knowing she helped contribute to her condition. I might slip her Maza's phone number.

"We do help people to understand it doesn't have to be their fault,'' Maza told me. "If they manage it well, they may never have the complications they fear.''

In other words: Ditch the guilt and take action. There's a plan that might fix a whole lot more than diabetes.

For more information on Morton Plant Mease Diabetes Education Center, go to www.mpmhealth.com or call (727) 734-6888.

Get active in fight against diabetes 11/05/10 [Last modified: Friday, November 5, 2010 5:30am]

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