Aug 18, 2014 1:00 AM

Author: Libby Mitchell

Diabetes is set to become the next big health crisis in America.

A new study published in the the Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology Journal predicts that 40 percent of Americans born between the years 2000 and 2011 will develop diabetes in their lifetime. That is more than double the number in the population born in the decade before. In minority populations the risk is even higher, around 50 percent. The majority of those will develop type two diabetes, which is largely preventable.

So, why is the risk increasing? Because of the way Americans live now. “People are eating more refined sugars, and fewer complex carbohydrates,” says Timothy Graham, MD, “those not only up your blood sugar, increasing your risk for diabetes, but they also make you fat, which is the major cause of type two diabetes.”

According to the CDC more than one third of the adult population of the United States is now obese. The numbers are similar in childhood and adolescent populations, and growing fast. In the past 30 years the number of obese children has more than doubled, and quadrupled in adolescents. “We all need to take a look at our diet and exercise habits,” says Graham, “and we need to make sure we are setting good examples for our kids.”

What should those examples be? “Fast food and refined foods should never be seen as anything but a rare treat,” says Graham, “meals should be centered on vegetables, whole grains and proteins.” Physical exercise can also help reduce the risk. “Go take a walk as a family, or play in the backyard,” Graham says, “just 20 minutes a day can make a huge difference.”

Diabetes is nothing to take lightly. While the new report shows that people are living longer with the illness, that doesn’t mean that the quality of life is improved. “Complications from diabetes can include cardiovascular disease, hypertension, dental problems, eye problems, nerve damage, and possibly limb amputation,” says Graham. The bottom line is it is better to avoid diabetes than to treat it.

Avoiding diabetes isn’t just important for the physical health of Americans, but for the economic health of the country as well. According to the American Diabetes Association the cost to treat diabetes in the United States was more than 245 billion dollars in 2012 – an increase of 45 percent from just five years earlier.

Diabetes is looming as a health crisis, but it is one we can all avoid. Says Graham, “it’s all about making smart choices.” 

Libby Mitchell

Libby Mitchell is the Social Media Coordinator for University of Utah Health Care. Follow her on Twitter @UUHCLibby

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