Understanding the Diabetes Epidemic
Monday, March 11, 2013

Gregory J. Barone, D.O. - Kennedy Health Alliance

In the 1940s and ‘50s, the United States dealt with a countrywide polio epidemic, with more than 100,000 Americans affected and nearly 6,000 reported deaths. Starting in the early 1980s, the AIDS epidemic affected nearly one million Americans, killing more than 550,000. Right now, we are dealing with an even more staggering disease, affecting many more Americans, and dramatically impacting our healthcare system. As of data released in 2011, there are 26 million Americans with diabetes mellitus. Even more concerning, an estimated seven million of those with diabetes do not even know they have the condition. Nearly 80 million more Americans have pre-diabetes.

All told, nearly a third of Americans has diabetes, or are well on their way. Nearly two million new cases are diagnosed each year. More than a quarter of the population over the age of 65 is diabetic. There are some estimates that by 2050, there will be 50 million cases. The costs to the American healthcare system are also staggering. In 2007, diabetes contributed to more than 200,000 deaths. The total cost to treat diabetes and pre-diabetes is over $200 billion. Diabetes continues to be the leading cause of non-traumatic amputations and renal failure in this country. Data released by the CDC in 2010 shows that 35.7% of Americans meet criteria for obesity. And that number is sure to grow in the coming years. This is a major epidemic.

Over 90% of all people with diabetes are what we term “Type 2,” which results from a buildup of insulin resistance in the body over years and years. Patients with Type 2 diabetes are often overweight with numerous other risk factors for cardiometabolic disease, including: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a sedentary lifestyle, and poor dietary habits. Contrast this to Type 1 diabetes, previously known as Juvenile Diabetes, which results from destruction to the pancreas, where insulin is normally made and released in response to high blood sugars. Type 1 diabetics can only be treated with insulin.

Understanding your risks for Type 2 diabetes is crucial in decreasing your risk of developing the condition. Modification of those risks is also the backbone to any successful treatment plan. By the time many patients reach my office, they have often failed to control their diabetes with dietary efforts, exercise, and medications. I hear frustration when I meet patients. There is a feeling of failure, and a loss of hope. But it does not have to be that way.

With some education and a strong support system, patients can do much more for themselves than any medication that physicians prescribe. Education is the key. There are many regional diabetic education centers that offer comprehensive classes. Many medical offices are now offering one-on-one sessions with certified diabetic educators and clinical nutritionists. Pharmaceutical companies have made patient-centered, non-branded educational material readily available.

The days of a physician in a white coat telling patients to “lose weight” needs to be behind us. Medical care is moving in a direction that is far more “patient-centric.” It is important that you and your loved ones embrace that change. I would encourage you to go to the American Diabetes Association (www.diabetes.org) and take your diabetic risk test today. And talk to your family doctor about what you can do to reduce those risks.

Dr. Gregory Barone practices Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism with Kennedy Health Alliance in Cherry Hill. To reach him, please call 856-406-4091 or click here to visit the Kennedy Health Alliance website.

Kennedy offers comprehensive diabetes education through our Diabetes Control Center. The Diabetes Control Centers provide outpatient training in diabetes care and self-management to people with diabetes, using the expertise of an experienced and highly trained healthcare staff. Most insurances cover the cost of the classes!