Despite the ambitious goals of the American Diabetes Association to curb the increase of this disease in the United States, including dubbing November, Diabetes Awareness Month, the number of cases continues to rise rapidly. Type 2 diabetes has become a very expensive illness, costing $174 billion to treat in 2007 alone. Without major changes to the typical American lifestyle, over one third of Americans will develop type 2 diabetes by the year 2050. Our love of fatty, sugary foods has caused phenomenal weight increases and it appears no end is in sight. Over 57 million people have pre-diabetes or metabolic syndrome with a high risk of developing the disease and over 24 million children and adults live with the type 1 diabetes.
The news and internet present images of overweight and obese people daily and yet, even with the rage of dieting we see around us, Americans are just not able to get fit, lose weight and prevent diseases such as diabetes type 2. Why can’t we get control of ourselves, stay healthy and reduce the huge, financial burden of treating this?
Several factors are in play and each one needs our attention to make a real difference. The increased availability of fast foods and prepared foods along with our busy, modern lifestyles contribute to our increasing girth. Many of us don’t take the time to buy and prepare the healthy, home-cooked meals we know we should be eating. Fast food and pre-made meals, either from a restaurant or packaged and bought in a grocery or convenience store contain significantly more salt, fat and sugar than food prepared at home. With food manufacturers constantly vying for increased market share, they need to make the food taste good and this means adding fat, salt and sugar. Although the food and beverage industry doesn’t deserve all the blame by any means, most of them aren’t helping.
The Food and Drug Administration is trying to help by sponsoring the Institute of Medicine Report, “Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States” and reviewing this study with an eye towards a national plan for reducing sodium levels in the food supply. Some manufacturers have stated that they are already working on reducing sodium in their products.
Another key factor is the increase in obesity and, therefore diabetes type 2. The lack of fresh fruits, vegetables, and other healthy food in low-income areas leaves few options for some. The lack of grocery stores in inner-city neighborhoods and the high cost of getting to a grocery store and purchasing healthier foods has created a situation in which many people only have access to prepared foods high in fat, salt and sugar.
Finally, our society has become more focused on television and video games as forms of entertainment, reducing the physical activity that many children and adults got in the past. The lack of activity produces obesity in children leading to lifelong health issues, including diabetes.
None of these factors by itself is enough to cause the continuing rise in diabetes in our country. All of them will need to be addressed. The government can help by placing restrictions on the food and beverage industry, but individuals need to do most of the heavy lifting and make tough choices. Although some people don’t have access to healthier food, we all have the ability to get up and move. We can decide to make the best food choices available to us. Most of us just aren’t doing it. The high cost of healthcare in the US is not only a function of the healthcare system, but also a function of our personal choices. Diabetes is only one piece of that pie, but we can do better!