Chuck Malloy: Push for healthy lifestyle can change diabetes trend

November 13, 2013 

November is American Diabetes Awareness Month, but it’s hardly a time worth celebrating. Worldwide, complications from diabetes kill one person every seven seconds. Some of the complications — which include strokes, heart attacks, amputations and kidney failure — can be worse than death.

Diabetes is something I take personally. I was diagnosed with the disease 14 years ago when working as the Statesman’s opinion page editor and I probably had it longer than that. Unfortunately, I ignored some of the telltale signs of diabetes and paid a price for that.

But this is not a story about my personal hardships. I’m 63 years old and feeling better than I have in decades. I essentially have recovered from blindness and heart bypass surgery. Ten years ago, I had to leave my job as a Statesman editorial writer because of these complications. But I have been back for about the last two years working part-time on the editorial desk and enjoying every minute of the job.

I also spend some of my time speaking to various groups and working as the diabetes chairman for Lions District 39W, which covers Southern Idaho and part of Oregon.

The moral of this story is that diabetes is not a death sentence. It can be managed and, while there is no known cure, the effects can be reversed. There are a wealth of resources that can assist with managing the disease, including Humphreys Diabetes Center and the American Diabetes Association.

Here are some quick facts: About 7 million people living in the United States have diabetes and nearly 80 million have this ticking time bomb called pre-diabetes — which develops into the real thing if you ignore the symptoms as I did in the mid-90s. During those days, I had an insatiable thirst and was drinking massive amounts of Gatorade — which is about the worst thing someone with diabetes can do. I felt numbness and coldness in my feet and I was losing weight, while eating about everything I wanted. The tipping point was when I experienced severe blurred vision while playing golf on a cold March day. By then, it was too late.

A second moral to this story is, if you are at risk for diabetes, get tested. If you are diagnosed with pre-diabetes, take care of it. Lifestyle changes certainly beat the alternative.

Changing lifestyles is not easy, especially with all the restaurants serving delicious meals with plates piled high. Unfortunately, a lot of people clean their plates, and that’s part of the problem.

America is fat, and getting fatter. Seventeen years ago, not a single state had an obesity rate (30 pounds or more overweight) of more than 15 percent. Now all states are above 15 percent and Idaho’s benchmark is more than 25 percent. It is projected that by 2020 all states will have obesity rates greater than 44 percent and Idaho will be about 50 percent.

If these projections hold true, numbers for diabetes and heart attacks will go through the roof, as will the costs of treatment. We won’t have to worry about fixing Social Security and Medicare, because people won’t live long enough to collect those benefits.

Clearly, food has become the new cigarettes of our times and diabetes rapidly is becoming the “new normal.”

Change is not going to come about through big government programs. It’s going to come from parents educating their children about a healthy lifestyle and setting an example.

If we don’t take action, I fear what this world will look like in 17 years. It’s not the world that I want to see.

Chuck Malloy is an editorial assistant with the Statesman and the Lions District 39W chair for diabetes awareness.

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