The International Diabetes Federation is reporting that people living with diabetes will number 552 million by 2030 unless urgent action is taken. The kind of diabetes referenced is Type 2, commonly caused by obesity and resulting in symptoms such as kidney failure, heart disease and failing eyesight. (Personal note: I have had dozens of family members with Type 2 diabetes and have supported the American Diabetes Association for many years.)
Diabetes is an expensive disease; pharmaceutical companies provide medications, insulin and products to help patients monitor and track their blood sugar levels. The problem is, that patients with diabetes often go undiagnosed or reject the diagnosis because the lifestyle changes and diet required to manage diabetes or avoid it are not easy, and often people diagnosed later in life aren’t interested in making major life changes. This inevitably leads to serious complications; strokes, heart attacks, poor circulation sometimes resulting in amputations, kidney failure and eye disease. In other words, more, longer-term health problems that are costly to the patient and the health care system.
I’ve been involved with organizations trying to spread the word about ways to manage your life with diabetes. We’ve done outreach to at-risk communities, worked with medical professionals to provide motivating language to patients, delivered help and education to patients to help them better understand the risks of the disease and how important managing diet and getting exercise is before and after diagnosis. It’s often an uphill battle — not unlike encouraging smokers to throw away their cigarettes.
Since, as a nation, we’re focusing on the business of health care and how it affects our economy, our citizens and our quality of life, the confluence of this report and the Supreme Court review of the Obama administrations health care bill is interesting. Since dramatic change is unlikely to occur quickly enough to change the prediction of the increase in diabetes patients, our health care initiatives would do well to plan for one in 10 Americans to be facing serious health issues in a mere 20 years. That’s frightening from a financial and a cultural perspective.
How can we effectively communicate to Americans the need to maintain a healthy diet, exercise and avoid this disease? For some, scare tactics work, whether it’s the financial cost of the disease or the toll its symptoms take on the patient. The frustrating part of the diabetes diagnosis is this: it’s entirely preventable. The trouble is, each person has to make up his or her mind to care, and to change behaviors. It’s not easy, but in the end, it saves us all money and keeps our loved ones around and enjoying life much longer.