Kentucky’s diabetes prevalence continues to rise, jumping from about 7 percent of the adult population in 2004 to nearly 14 percent in 2017, according to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services’ 2020 report.
While Type 1 diabetes cases are increasing nationally, this climb is predominantly due to increases in Type 2 diabetes, a chronic condition that affects a person’s ability to regulate glucose.
In Owensboro, the debilitating disease is becoming commonplace and emerging at younger ages, according to Beth Cecil, a registered dietician and diabetes specialist with Owensboro Health Regional Hospital.
“We’re seeing kids, sadly, with Type 2 diabetes,” Cecil said. “I’ve seen people in their teens.”
The Healthpark operates the hospital’s various diabetes programs, including an eight-week exercise regimen, prevention classes, education programs and a monthly support group, which has not been able to meet during the pandemic.
Each month, Cecil averages between 50 and 75 referrals from healthcare providers for newly diagnosed diabetes patients. The program, which Cecil operates with six other diabetes care and education specialists, also conducts outreach to people diagnosed with prediabetes.
Nearly 10 percent of adults in the seven-county Green River region have prediabetes, a threshold for elevated levels of red blood cells with sugar-coated hemoglobin that could develop into diabetes if left unmitigated, according to the state report.
Kentucky might house 812,000 adults with prediabetes and an additional 158,000 with undiagnosed diabetes, based on national data.
“Basically, one in four don’t know they have it,” Cecil said. “People don’t always have symptoms.”
Diabetes can lead to lifelong struggles and early death. Diabetes complications include cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, kidney damage, eye damage, hearing impairment, skin conditions, dementia and depression. Nerve damage in the feet increases the risk for complications with cuts or blisters, which have led to toe, foot and leg amputations in diabetes patients.
“Heart disease is the main reason that people die from diabetes, from the damage that prolonged elevated blood sugar has on the vessels,” Cecil said. “We also see a lot of patients that have sores on their feet or they don’t feel their feet.”
Diabetes is also a significant risk factor for severe illness from COVID-19 and COVID-19-related mortality. (Inversely, scientists are researching whether COVID-19 can cause diabetes.)
Additionally, diabetes can translate into a lifelong dependency on expensive pharmaceuticals, which can cause a significant emotional and financial toll.
In 2018, the average U.S. price per standard unit across all types of insulin was $98.70, compared with $6.94 in Australia, $12.00 in Canada, $7.52 in the U.K., according to a recent report from the Department of Health and Human Services.
Yale University researchers found one-quarter of patients with type 1 or 2 diabetes have reported using less insulin than prescribed due to high costs — which can be dangerous and life threatening.
“People can’t afford it,” Cecil said. “They’re rationing it. They’re not using it as prescribed. And their blood sugar is less controlled.”
The hospital bills and sick days from work also impact diabetes patients.
“They are spending significantly more money on healthcare,” Cecil said.
Type 2 diabetes can be prevented, and prediabetes can be lessened to prevent or delay onset of disease.
“They can lower that blood sugar back down to normal,” Cecil said.
Risk factors for prediabetes include being overweight, being aged 45 or older, being physically active less than three times per week, having polycystic ovary syndrome and having diabetes during pregnancy or giving birth to a baby who weighed more than nine pounds.
To find out if you’re at risk for diabetes, you’ll need to schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider to get blood drawn. Results are typically ready within a day or two, Cecil said.
To prevent diabetes, diet, fitness and maintaining a healthy weight are essential. It’s important to make sustainable lifestyle changes.
The CDC recommends getting at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week, such as walking briskly for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Shorter walks throughout the day can also be beneficial and can be welcome mini-breaks for people who work sedentary jobs.
When it comes to diet, there is no need to avoid carbohydrates. People should eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and lean proteins while limiting or avoiding processed food, including added sugars, and excess fat intake, especially from meat, fish and dairy.
“It’s not the sugar itself that causes diabetes. It’s the lifestyle choices,” Cecil said.
To learn more about Owensboro Healthpark’s diabetes programs, contact Beth Cecil at 270-688-3252 or email@example.com.