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The Diabetes Epidemic

Updated on December 29, 2011


Diabetes sounds like something from a science fiction movie, but it is altogether too real. Americans are the most affected by the growing trend of the development of diabetes, but other countries who have adopted the Western style of eating are noticing the trend as well.

23.6 million Americans--7.8 percent of the population--have diabetes. Of this number, 5.7 million people have the disease but are yet undiagnosed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that if the current trend continues, one in three Americans will develop diabetes during their lifetime, shortening their lifespan by 10 to 15 years.

This chronic disease was the sixth leading cause of death in the United States in 2006. In 2007, 1.6 million Americans age 20 and older were newly diagnosed with the disease. In 1999-2000, 7 percent of American adolescents ages 12-19 showed evidence of prediabetes, meaning they are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart attack.

African Americans, Hispanics, American Indians and Alaska Natives are twice as likely to develop this lifelong disease than white people.

Diabetes Epidemic in America

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes, short for diabetes mellitus, is a metabolism disorder. Specialized cells in the pancreas, islets of Langerhans, produce insufficient or no insulin in response to the body's need for glucose to be metabolized. Glucose, produced when most food is digested, is the main source of fuel for the body. In diabetes, insulin is unavailable to the cells to be used as fuel, instead the glucose continues to circulate in the bloodstream.

There are three main types of this condition: Type 1, Type 2, and gestational diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disorder where for reasons yet unknown, the body's defense mechanism attacks the cells that produce insulin. At one time, type 1 diabetes was diagnosed almost exclusively in children, but it may affect people of any age. Type 1 diabetes requires daily injections of insulin to control the disease. Symptoms usually develop over a short period of time.

Type 2 diabetes affects the greatest number of individuals. 90 to 95 percent of those diagnosed with diabetes have type 2. In this condition, initially the specialized pancreatic cells are producing adequate insulin, but for some reason the body is not utilizing it properly. This is termed insulin resistance. After a period of time, insulin production decreases or ceases. Symptoms of type 2 diabetes develop over a longer period of time.

Gestational diabetes is a form of the disease that some women experience during the latter stages of pregnancy. After giving birth, this type of diabetes usually abates, but women who have experienced gestational diabetes run a 40 to 60 percent increased chance of developing type 2 diabetes within 5 to 10 years.

Why the Diabetes Epidemic?

The increase in diabetes diagnoses in the United States mirrors the increased rate of obesity in the country. The population is aging, with Baby Boomers comprising the greatest single generation in number. The American population is also seeing an increase percentage-wise of the groups of people who are twice as likely to develop diabetes in the Hispanic/Mexican population.

Dr. Greg Fors, author of "Why We Hurt," theorizes that diabetes and other chronic conditions such as asthma, which have also been on the rise in recent decades, are becoming more prevalent due to our exposure to toxins in the air, water and soil. He explains about the development and use of more than 200 new chemicals since the end of World War II to which our bodies are exposed. Fors advocates that such exposure has inundated our bodies with free radicals and our bodies have responded with the development of increased inflammation which in turn leads to chronic disease.

Type 2 Diabetes Prevention in the News

In July 2011, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism published the results of a study conducted through the Department of Medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine in Los Angeles, California about the effect of increases in muscle mass on insulin resistance, a precursor to the onset of Type 2 diabetes.

Conclusions reached by researchers was that as muscle mass increased in relation to a person's body size, insulin sensitivity improved.

This study's outcome suggests that building muscle mass may be as important as weight loss in staving off the onset of Type 2 diabetes. More research is necessary to confirm the conclusions reached in this one study, but this study of more than 13,000 adults brings a glimmer of hope to diabetes prevention.

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    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      BlissfulWriter, I think those sugar-laden treats are a large part of the problem. It is so much healthier to eat foods in their natural state, or as close to that as possible -- but it is just so easy to pick up something pre-made.

    • BlissfulWriter profile image

      BlissfulWriter 6 years ago

      I think a big part of the diabetes epidemic is due to the over consumption of sugar, sugary drinks, and foods that turn into sugar (such as bread and pastries).

    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Teresa, thanks for your comments. I think as time goes on and more research is done, we will find that many of the substances in our environments contribute to dis-health.

    • eventsyoudesign profile image

      eventsyoudesign 6 years ago from Nashville, Tennessee

      Too many chemicals in the foods we eat lead to diabetes. Sedentary life style does not help either. Thanks for a great article. Teresa

    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 6 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Bob, you're right. A lot of us just don't do the simple things that would prevent us from un-health--always looking for a pill or miracle to fix things.

    • profile image

      Bob 6 years ago

      We've been told for some time that obesity, poor diet, lack of exercise, etc., increases your risk of type 2 diabetes. I don't know why but it seems like people would rather continue their unhealthy lifestyle, than take positive action to prevent diabetes or other chronic conditions.

    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 7 years ago from Oklahoma City

      JDavis88, that is so true. Changes in lifestyle to eating healthier and being more physically active can make a big impact on health.

    • jdavis88 profile image

      jdavis88 7 years ago from Twitter @jdavis88hub

      Good hub, too many people get type II diabetis and could avoid it if they would take care of themselves..