November is Diabetes Awareness Month. The problem of diabetes is becoming so severe in the United States that it may be harder to overlook it this year than it was in the past. Look at some facts:
- While just one in 20 Americans had diabetes in the 1970s, now it’s one in 7.
- 37.3 million people have been diagnosed with diabetes (11.3% of the population). It’s estimated that another 23% are undiagnosed, and 96 million people — 38% of the population — have prediabetes.
- 40% of today’s young adults are likely to be diagnosed with diabetes at some point during their lives.
- Nearly half of people over age 65 have diabetes.
- Diabetes costs the United States $237 billion every year — that’s 25% of all the health care dollars spent in our nation.
- In 2019, diabetes caused an estimated 2 million deaths, according to the World Health Organization.
Diabetes has become a serious public health issue.
Diabetes can be managed
Risk of diabetes depends on genetic factors that cannot be controlled, but it’s also influenced by lifestyle choices. People with diabetes can manage the condition with a combination of diet, exercise, and often medication as well.
While unmanaged diabetes usually leads to complications ranging from blindness to kidney failure to heart disease and death, well-controlled diabetes is much less risky.
What is well-controlled diabetes?
Controlling diabetes is mostly about keeping the amount of glucose in the blood at the right level. Blood glucose is measured by a test called A1C, a measure of blood sugar over a period of a few months, and by daily blood glucose readings. People with diabetes who keep their A1C below 7 and also maintain stable blood glucose readings from day to day are said to have well-controlled diabetes.
If you think you might have diabetes, you should talk with your doctor and have an A1C test. Given how common diabetes is, it’s worth asking your doctor whether you should have this test.
If you are diagnosed with diabetes, you will be given a plan including lifestyle changes, primarily related to diet and exercise, that will help stabilize your blood sugar.
You may also be prescribed medications that can help lower blood glucose readings. You will have your A1C checked regularly, and you will check your blood glucose readings at home. Diabetics need to see their primary care physicians regularly. The frequency of visits will depend on how much support you need to control your diabetes.
The public health aspect
Most of us still do not have diabetes and will not, even though the numbers are rising to alarming heights. But the New York Times recently quoted Dr. Dean Schillinger, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, as saying, “Our entire society is perfectly designed to create Type 2 diabetes. We have to disrupt that.”
This is a great month to consider any concerns you may have about diabetes for yourself, and also to consider whether there are actions you might like to take to support solutions to the public health problem of diabetes.
Encouraging healthier meal choices, supporting public walking and bike trails, advocating for physical education and nutritional information in schools, or speaking up for equal access to healthy food for everyone might all be choices we can make as citizens.