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EDITORIAL: You are what you eat: Americans need to embrace diet, exercise to reverse growing diabetes epidemic

The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

11-14-08

Nov. 13--The explosion of diabetes cases threatens to wreck the nation's health-care system. And the damage is largely self-inflicted.

The rate of new diabetes cases nearly doubled over the past decade, from five per 1,000 adults in the mid-1990s to nine in the mid-2000s. This is according to a study by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ninety percent of the new cases are Type 2 diabetes, what used to be known as adult-onset diabetes. That's no longer an accurate term, because many young people have been developing the disease. The nation's obesity epidemic is contributing to that onslaught.

Overeating causes high blood sugar, which damages cells in the body. Diabetes can cause poor circulation, which can lead to the amputation of limbs. It can cause kidney disease, blindness, strokes and heart disease. It can make other diseases worse.

People aren't just hurting themselves when they overeat. The rest of society pays, too, in the form of higher taxes, higher insurance premiums and higher health-care costs.

More than 23 million Americans have diabetes. Ohio has been above the national average and recently had the third-highest death rate from diabetes in the nation. But the numbers from the new study show Ohio at 6.5 cases per 1,000 adults, which indicates the state may be moving in a positive direction, even if the nation is not.

The effects of the diabetes upsurge are clogging the nation's hospitals. A few years ago, one New York hospital reported that nearly half of its patients were being treated for a diabetes-related malady. And the future looks bleak. One prediction was that one of every three children born in 2001 would develop diabetes. And the situation has deteriorated since then.

Experts say that one of every four cases has yet to be diagnosed, so the true extent of the problem may be even greater.

One particularly insidious aspect of the disease is that people who suffer from diabetes may go for years without noticing any ill effects. So the impact of today's new cases may not be felt for a while. Couple that with the flood of baby boomers beginning to retire when, presumably, they'll need more health care, and the potential impact on the system is enormous.

The good news is that everybody has the power to fend off a crisis with regular exercise and sensible meals.

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

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