Sounding the Alert on Diabetes

It’s often said that everything is bigger and better in Texas, and most of the time, that’s a good thing. We’re proud of our wide-open skies, monstrous football stadiums and enormous Tex-Mex combo platters.

On the other hand, we’re one of the states with the highest rate of diabetes, which is nothing to brag about. According to the American Diabetes Association, nearly 30 million Americans are affected by the disease, Texas is in a tie for eighth place with Georgia, with 14.2 percent of the population affected by diabetes. The Lone Star state trails only behind Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia.

To educate the public and raise awareness about the disease, the American Diabetes Association has named the fourth Tuesday in March as Diabetes Alert Day, which falls on March 28 this year.

Chandana Konduru, M.D., a physician and endocrinologist on the medical staff at Texas Health Memorial Arlington, said special events like Diabetes Alert Day help serve as a wake-up call to the millions of people who are living with the disease and don’t even know it yet, which is estimated to be one in four Americans.

“Diabetes Alert Day helps create awareness by asking Americans to take the Type 2 diabetes test,” she said. “Companies, organizations and communities can play important roles by encouraging employees and members to take the risk test and share it with family and friends. This will help identify those who are at-risk and give them the tools and resources they need to prevent or delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes.”

The “Type 2 Diabetes Risk Test” is available online and can be completed in less than a minute. The test requires input on gender, family history, age, medical history, race, level of physical activity, height and weight before providing the user a score of one through 10 to signify the level of potential risk.

“This online tool is simple, user-friendly and can be used by anyone with internet access or there is a paper version which can be administered in places like physician’s offices and pharmacies,” Konduru said. “The test evaluates a person’s risk factors and determines his or her potential for developing diabetes. If a person finds him or herself at high risk, he or she can lower that score by eating healthy and increasing physical activity, but should also see a health care provider to get appropriate testing and further advice.”

Diabetes is a growing problem, as the number of Americans diagnosed with the disease continues to skyrocket, increasing 382 percent from 1988 to 2014. A new diagnosis of diabetes is made every 23 seconds across the United States, at a rate of 3,825 per day and 1.4 million every year.

So why exactly is the disease becoming such a health crisis and what can be done to curb the trend?

“The increasing incidence of diabetes is due to many factors. These include changes in diagnostic criteria, enhanced detection of undiagnosed diabetes, improved survival of persons with the disease and demographic changes in the population, due to both a general aging of the population and increased growth of minority populations who are at greater risk for the disease,” Konduru explained. “Additionally, there has been an increase in the prevalence of risk factors for the development of the disease, such as obesity and a sedentary lifestyle.

While diabetes affects adults over age 65 at a higher rate than any other group (25.9 percent), one in 400 Americans under the age of 20 also has diabetes (Type 1 or Type 2) and more than 23,000 are newly diagnosed every year.

Konduru said the key to lowering diabetes across the population is to start by raising a generation of healthier, more active kids.

“I strongly believe we should start promoting and raising awareness about healthy eating and staying active, which will help decrease obesity and diabetes rates, as well as promote lifelong healthy habits,” she advised. “There are some great resources available like ‘Choose My Plate’ and ‘Let’s Move’, which both encourage healthy habits for kids today, who will be the healthier adults of tomorrow.”

Nearly 10 percent of the American population has diabetes, yet Konduru said there are many common misconceptions about the disease that she encounters when working with patients, including the following:

Misconception: “It’s okay to eat as much fruit as I want because it’s ‘natural’ sugar.”

Reality: Even though fruit has fiber and lots of vitamins and minerals, it should be considered a carbohydrate and needs to be included in your meal plan because fruit is not a “free” food.

Misconception: “I can eat sugar-free candy and cookies.”

Reality: Sugar-free doesn’t necessarily mean carbohydrate-free or calorie-free. You need to look at the carbohydrate content of these foods, as manufacturers may have replaced sucrose (sugar) with sweet-tasting substances like sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, isomalt or hydrogenated starch hydrolysates. These are all sugar alcohols, which are technically not sugar but are high in carbohydrates.

Misconception: “People with diabetes should eat a ‘special diet.’”

Reality: There is no special diet for people with diabetes. A healthy meal plan for people with diabetes is the same for everyone, including lean protein, non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and fruit. (An excellent resource is the Plate Method.)

While Konduru said we couldn’t eliminate all risk factors, we can work together to live healthier and lower our risk for diabetes.

“We can all be a part of this movement to decrease diabetes rates by educating family, friends and co-workers about healthy eating and staying active,” she said. “We cannot modify our genetic risk, but we can change our lifestyles.”

To learn more about our diabetes services, click here: https://www.texashealth.org/Pages/Services/Diabetes.aspx

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