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How Diabetes Became a Global Epidemic

The rate of type two diabetes continues to rise around the world, and many experts agree that it has become a global health crisis.

Worldwide, the rate of diabetes increased by about 8 percent in men and nearly 10 percent in women from 1980 to 2008, according to a 2011 study published in the journal Lancet. The study, which tracked diabetes trends in 200 countries over the past three decades, found that nearly one in ten adults worldwide have some form of diabetes.

The primary causes of this preventable disease are related to a poor diet and lack of exercise. Educating the world population on the importance of a healthy lifestyle is the best way to avert this public health crisis. Preventative care is the easiest way to keep individuals, families and communities healthy and active.

Global Rise in Diabetes

Diabetes is the condition in which the body does not properly process food for use as energy, and it manifests in the body in two ways, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Type one diabetes is an autoimmune disease that begins in childhood and requires an individual to take insulin. Type two diabetes accounts for 90 to 95 percent of all diagnosed diabetes cases, according to the CDC and is controlled by insulin, pills and in some cases by weight loss and exercise. Type two diabetes usually comes on after the age of 25.

According to the results of the Lancet study the disease is most common in the islands of the South Pacific, Saudi Arabia, China, and India. Among high-income countries the rise in the US is the steepest.

The study found that between 1980 and 2008, the number of diabetics more than doubled from 153 million to 347 million. About 30 percent of that increase came from a rise in disease across all age groups. About 30 percent came from population growth, and about 40 percent came from an aging world population since diabetes is more common in older people.

A CDC report found that diagnosed cases of diabetes grew by 50 percent or more in 42 U.S. states, and by 100 percent in more in 18 states, particularly in southern states from 1995 to 2010. In 2010, the CDC found that 18.8 million Americans had been diagnosed with diabetes and another 7 million had undetected diabetes.

Today, there are an estimated 371 million people living with diabetes, which is up from 366 million a year ago, according to a recent report from the International Diabetes Foundation. The report projects that as many as 552 million people will be diagnosed by 2030. The same report found that 80 percent of people with diabetes live in low and medium income countries, and the greatest number of people with diabetes are in the 40 to 59 age group.

Expensive Problem

The cost of diabetes is likely to become a crippling economic burden around the world. The Lancet study warned that health systems around the globe will likely be faced with expensive treatments for diabetic medical conditions including heart attack, kidney failure, blindness and infections.

According to the CDC, diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. The IDF estimates worldwide diabetes cost at least 465 billion dollars in healthcare expenditures in 2011, which accounted for 11% of total healthcare expenditures in adults ages 20-79 years old.

Tackling the Problem

Widespread research points to preventive care and education as the best tools to slow the diabetes epidemic. Lifestyle changes that include exercise, healthy eating and losing weight are critical to prevention. The American Heart Association says these efforts can dramatically reduce the progression of type two diabetes and are important in controlling type one diabetes.

The AHA recommends paying close attention to food labels and portion sizes, and limit simply carbohydrates such as table sugar, cake, soda, candy and jellies that can increase blood glucose.

Physical activity is critical to prevention. Thirty minutes of exercise most days of the week and losing five to seven percent of body weight can lower risk of developing diabetes by about 50 percent, and the risk decreases as more pounds are shed, according to the AHA.

The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released in 2011 emphasize three important guidelines to tackle health problems. The USDA recommends a weight management strategy that balances calories and physical activity. It encourages a diet based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products and seafood with limited consumption of high concentrations of salt, saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars and refined grains.

Diabetes in Society

Slowing the rise of diabetes the world over will take a concentrated effort to expand and promote educational and preventative resources. Promising efforts around the globe are making a difference.

The IDF’s education initiative Diabetes Conversations is a global program aimed at improving access to self-management resources, and providing the right training and tools for health professionals in their native tongue.

The American Diabetes Association has a list of several programs that can be implemented in the workplace, as well as specific programs for African American, Latino and Native American populations.

The CDC features an interactive map to find prevention and control programs for each state including information on state laws requiring health care providers to cover some diabetes related costs.

The stress of a busy lifestyle isn’t reason to put off eating right and staying active. Preventing and beating type two diabetes can be done with just a little effort. Individuals, families and even communities can prevent and even reverse the onset of this disease with a concentrated effort to eat right and be active.

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