I was in a retail store the other day and noticed a poster on the counter: “Donate to cure diabetes.” As I was paying for my purchase, the cashier asked me if I wanted to donate a $1 to cure diabetes. Really???!!! As a medical writer and health educator, I happen to know that when we talk about the diabetes crisis in our country and other developed countries, we are in fact talking about a self-inflicted condition, directly related to obesity and inactivity – type 2 diabetes. Our sedentary lifestyles and excessive consumption of junky, highly processed, high-calorie, low nutrition food are almost entirely to blame.
Diabetes causes serious heath complications, including heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure and leg and foot amputations. In fact, over 200,000 people die each year of diabetes related complications.1 Type 2 diabetes takes a tremendous financial toll on individuals, families, communities, businesses and the nation’s health system. So I barely suppressed a rant when the cashier asked me to contribute a $1 for the cure. It’s absolutely counterproductive to talk about a cure for type 2 diabetes. When we do, we reinforce a victim mentality, entirely eliminating personal responsibility. The fact is we are all already paying for diabetes type 2 with our lives and our personal and national livelihood. And we will continue to pay as long as we fail to take personal and cultural responsibility for it.
We need to educate, motivate and empower people to protect and enhance their health. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, 9 out of 10 cases of type 2 diabetes are entirely preventable.2
We have the power to prevent diabetes and improve our health—even those of us who have already been diagnosed can improve their condition and reduce their risk for complications. It’s not about waiting for a “cure” or having fat loss surgery (though this radical measure may be appropriate for some morbidly obese); it’s about taking responsibility for eating better, moving more and keeping your weight at recommended levels. While your genes may influence your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, they take a back seat to your behavior and lifestyle. You can reduce your risk for diabetes simply by being at your recommended body weight, eating healthy and staying active. It’s not too late even if you are overweight, don’t exercise and have high blood pressure and high cholesterol. With lifestyle changes and just a 5 percent to 7 percent weight reduction, people with prediabetes (higher than normal blood sugar, but not high for a diabetes diagnosis) can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58 percent.3
Data from the Nurses’ Health Study suggest that 90 percent of type 2 diabetes in women can be attributed to: excess weight, lack of exercise, an unhealthy diet, smoking, and abstaining from alcohol.5 Not surprisingly, the same holds true for men. Data from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study on men indicate that a “Western” diet, combined with inactivity and excess weight, dramatically increases the risk of type 2 diabetes.6
The Western diet is notoriously high in fat and sugar and has long been known as one of the primary causes of heart disease. A UK study found those who ate the most fried and sweet food, processed and red meat, white bread and butter and cream doubled their risk of premature death or poor health. 7
Apparently education is not the problem. A survey from UnitedHealth Group revealed that almost all respondents (92 percent) knew there’s a difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and most (82 percent) also knew that type 2 diabetes is largely preventable.4
We are junk fooding, desk sitting and couch potatoing ourselves to death. But we don’t have to take it lying down, waiting around for a “cure”. We have to change our personal and cultural perspectives. There are no quick fixes and magic cures for type 2 diabetes—just as there are none for self-inflicted obesity.
Let’s get off our butts and cure ourselves! We can help each other make better food choices and stay active. Each of us has the power to reduce our own risk of type 2 diabetes and to help others reduce theirs. Together we can banish diabetes type 2 from the planet. Are you with me?
- The Obesity Society website. Your weight and diabetes. Available at: http://www.obesity.org/resources-for/your-weight-and-diabetes.htm
- Harvard School of Public health website. Simple steps to preventing diabetes. Available at: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/preventing-diabetes-full-story
- American Diabetes A. Economic Costs of Diabetes in the U.S. in 2007. Diabetes Care. 2008; 31:596-615.
- Most realize type 2 diabetes is largely preventable. Available at: http://www.benefitspro.com/2012/11/02/most-realize-type-2-diabetes-is-largely-preventabl
- Hu FB, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, et al. Diet, lifestyle, and the risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus in women. N Engl J Med. 2001; 345:790-7.
- van Dam RM, Rimm EB, Willett WC, Stampfer MJ, Hu FB. Dietary patterns and risk for type 2 diabetes mellitus in U.S. men. Ann Intern Med. 2002; 136:201-9.
- The Western diet really is a killer: People who eat white bread, butter and red meat are most likely to die young. Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2310053/The-Western-diet-really-IS-killer-People-eat-white-bread-butter-red-meat-likely-die-young.html#ixzz2qVgMyVeS