Reasons for the Diabetes Epidemic

The reason so many children and adults now live with diabetes or face its threat in the future is because of another epidemic now under way in the United States: being seriously overweight. By far the largest cause for the alarming upswing in the number of diabetes cases is the upsurge of obesity that has hit adults and children alike in the United States. Obesity is the "fastest-growing cause of disease and death in America today,"7 according to Richard Carmona, the former surgeon general of the United States.

Nearly two out of three Americans are overweight or obese, and more than 15 percent of young Americans aged six to seventeen fall into that category—more than 8 million. Many of them will develop diabetes, since obese children are twice as likely to develop the disease than those of normal weight. Obesity increases the chances of developing at least one form of diabetes. That form of diabetes is called type 2 diabetes. Too much fat, especially around the waist and abdomen, harms the process by which muscles can absorb glucose. And since diabetes occurs when glucose absorption is poor or nonexistent, being fat can contribute to the development of diabetes.

"A direct result of the obesity epidemic is that type 2 diabetes, previously unheard of in young people, is trickling into our schools," Carmona said. "And if left unchecked, it leads to serious illness and possible death."8

Fortunately, though, type 2 diabetes can often be prevented by a lifestyle that includes eating a healthy diet and getting enough activity. Furthermore, once someone has developed type 2, it can often be well controlled that same way.

But neither of these epidemics will disappear quickly. According to Carmona, "This effort is probably going to be intergener-ational because we have a society of 200 million people who need to change their purchasing patterns, their eating patterns, activity patterns. It will take a while. If we start today, hopefully

The rise in obesity among adults and children in the United States, fueled by poor diets and inactive lifestyles, has caused the number of diabetes cases to increase dramatically.

we build a legacy, the children inherit it, and it gets better as the generations go along, because we didn't get here overnight. It's taken us decades."9

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