The growing burden of diabetes

(BPT) – Next time you’re looking around in a crowd, there is something you won’t see that will be there – Type 2 diabetes. Most Americans have heard of the condition, but very few understand just how prevalent it has become across the nation. In fact, Type 2 diabetes affects at least one in every 10 Americans. That’s about 9.3 percent of the population or 29.1 million people and a dramatic increase from 2010 when 25.8 million people, or 8.3 percent, were living with diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If this growing health problem isn’t addressed, the CDC estimates it will affect one in every three Americans by 2050.

Diabetes also affects loved ones and places an unsustainable burden on the health care system. With current medical costs at $176 billion annually as reported by the American Diabetes Association, people with diabetes have, on average, 2.3 times higher medical expenditures. Factor in the $69 billion in indirect costs – disability, work loss, premature death – and you can understand the substantial burden diabetes represents in this country. Diabetes remains the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. Many of those who die are vulnerable because they are low-income, uninsured or under-insured individuals with limited access to quality health care. 

What’s being done?

Initiatives like the Alliance to Reduce Disparities in Diabetes, supported by the Merck Foundation, are helping tackle this problem. The Alliance works to improve the delivery and quality of care for people most affected by the disease. Working with national, regional and community partners, the Alliance is implementing programs to educate the public about diabetes prevention and teach people living with diabetes how to manage their condition and take charge of their health. Programs include diabetes management classes, home visits and cultural awareness/communication training for health care providers as well as innovative health care system changes to ensure that programs are sustained over time.

The Alliance is delivering hope to people with diabetes across the country with program sites in Camden, New Jersey; Chicago; Dallas; Memphis, Tennessee; and the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. People with diabetes who are enrolled in the Camden program have already seen a substantial reduction in the number of preventable hospital and emergency room visits. Patients enrolled across all five sites have also shown a decrease in blood sugar – an important step in preventing complications from diabetes. If similar programs were established across the country, cost savings could be considerable.

Know your risk

As the saying goes, you can’t manage what you don’t measure – so understanding your risk of diabetes is half the battle. Type 2 diabetes can affect people of any age in any region, but certain ethnic groups are more likely to be diagnosed with the disease than others.

In particular, African Americans are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes as non-Hispanic whites and more likely to experience complications. Diabetes is more prevalent among Hispanic populations as well. On average, Hispanics are 1.7 times more likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic whites. Native Americans and Alaska Native adults are also twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes as non-Hispanic white adults.

While many vulnerable, underserved populations are at increased risk of diabetes, there is hope. Diabetes is a serious condition, but one that can be effectively managed by medication adherence, proper diet and exercise and receiving more coordinated health care. Initiatives like the Alliance are working to close gaps in access and improve the quality of health care for vulnerable populations. To learn more about diabetes and the work of the Alliance, visit the Alliance to Reduce Disparities in Diabetes website at

Simple tips to lower your risk of Type 2 diabetes
It is essential to seek advice from a medical professional if you feel you may be at risk for Type 2 diabetes. However, these steps presented in The Nutrition Source by the Harvard School of Public Health, may lower your chances of being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes:

* Stop smoking

* Lose excess weight

* Exercise for 30 minutes each day

* Eat healthy foods and limit excess sugar and processed meats

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