Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Diabetes: An Ounce of Prevention

Diabetes is a significant problem in America. This “epidemic” affects more than 17 million people in the U.S., and another 16 million or more are at risk for developing the disease. It is the main cause of kidney failure, limb amputations, and new-onset blindness in adults, and it is a major cause of heart disease and stroke. It kills 180,000 Americans each year.

Type 2 diabetes (also known as adult-onset diabetes) accounts for nearly 95% of all cases and is closely associated with obesity, inactivity, family history, history of gestational diabetes, and racial or ethnic background. The prevalence of type 2 diabetes has tripled in the last 30 years, largely due to the dramatic increase in obesity and inactivity in this country.

But a major clinical trial called the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), a project of the National Institutes of Health, has found that at least 10 million Americans at high risk for type 2 diabetes can sharply lower their chances of developing the disease by making simple lifestyle changes.

The DPP is the first major trial to show that diet and exercise can effectively delay diabetes in a diverse population of overweight people with impaired glucose tolerance, a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not yet diabetic. The DPP found that diet and exercise resulting in a 5% to 7% weight loss lowered incidence of type 2 diabetes by 58%! Unfortunately, most people with pre-diabetes will likely develop the disease within 10 years unless they make a lifestyle change.

The most significant factor that prevents those at risk for diabetes from helping themselves is that they do not know how to get started. If they have been sedentary for most of their lives, they may not be familiar with the components of a successful exercise program. Those who are overweight may be self-conscious or have tried in the past and injured themselves because they did not start slowly enough.

Local health and exercise professionals can be a key resource to assist those with pre-diabetes in getting the help they need. Speak with your family doctor about this condition and what you can do to fight against it. Local health centers are also staffed with individuals with the tools to help facilitate change and increase knowledge about special diabetes considerations that may require exercise modifications, such as peripheral neuropathy, hypertension, foot problems, and limitations in joint mobility.

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