“Diabetes is a devastating illness,” says LIUNA General Secretary Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni, pointing out that this disease frequently causes blindness, kidney failure and amputations. “Yet, the worst thing about diabetes may be the large number of victims who don’t even know they have it.”

Alternate description

LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman
Armand E. Sabitoni

More than 17 million Americans have type 2 diabetes, but a large number – as much as a third of them, according to the Centers for Disease Control – do not know they have the disease.

“This is because,” says Sabitoni, “diabetes has no definitive symptoms. While being overweight is often a sign of increased risk, thin people get diabetes, too. A sure diagnosis requires a blood sugar test, and, unfortunately, too many of us don’t get regular check-ups like we should.”

Though easily prevented, type 2 diabetes is at epidemic proportions in the United States. Today, one out of every ten adults in the U.S. has the disease, and the situation is worsening. According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of every three U.S. residents will have type 2 diabetes by 2050.

A growing appetite for processed foods, sugary snacks, choosing the sofa instead of going for a walk and being overweight are the primary sources of this disaster. Type 2 diabetes often develops when bodies grown sluggish from poor diet and inactivity are unable to metabolize all of the sugars flooding their blood streams.

About a million new cases are diagnosed every year. Type 2 diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. Along with blindness, kidney failure and amputations, a reduced lifespan of at least seven years is typical. Annual health care costs related to type 2 diabetes are in the neighborhood of $174 billion.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease linked to how the body uses sugars or glucose. The condition presents in several forms. In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce enough insulin, the hormone that controls the level of glucose in the blood. There is no way to prevent this form of diabetes, and people who are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes must take daily injections of insulin to stay alive. Medical treatment, diet and, sometimes, insulin are needed to offset gestational diabetes, which, due to changing hormone levels, sometimes develops during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes can harm the developing fetus and years later, lead to diabetes in the mother. In type 2 diabetes, the most common form of diabetes, the body produces insulin, but does not properly use it. Because type 2 is primarily a lifestyle-caused disease, it is also the most preventable manifestation of diabetes.

Genetics can play a role in who develops type 2 diabetes, but the primary factors for this illness are ones that can be avoided: poor diet, a lack of physical activity and obesity. In the U.S., 30 percent of the adult population and 18 percent of children between the ages of 12 and 19 are considered obese.

However, while being overweight can be a red flag for type 2, thin people are not immune. With a poor diet and inadequate exercise, anyone is a candidate. That is why the American Diabetes Association recommends blood glucose screening for everyone beginning at age 45.

Meanwhile, another 57 million Americans have pre-diabetes. Their elevated glucose levels, while not high enough to be classified as diabetes, put them at increased risk for developing type 2, heart disease and stroke.

Warning signs for type 2 diabetes include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Frequent skin, gum or urinary tract infections
  • Itching of skin or genitals
  • Slow healing cuts and bruises
  • Tingling or numbness in legs, feet, fingers
  • Drowsiness

Maintaining healthy weight, eating low-fat and low-sugar foods and regular exercise can reduce risk for type 2 diabetes and also help type 2 diabetics better manage their disease. Two hours and thirty minutes of weekly, moderate-intensity aerobic activity (brisk walking, riding a bike), including at least two days of muscle-strengthening activities (lifting weights, digging in the garden) will get results. Exercise can be parceled in ten-minute intervals over the course of the week.

“Type 2 diabetes prevention is far less costly and far less invasive than type 2 diabetes treatment,” warns Sabitoni. “Simple-to-implement changes in diet and exercise can be the difference between a life that is abbreviated and pain-filled and one that is long, full and healthy.”

A LHSFNA health alert on diabetes prevention and detection – available in English and Spanish – can be ordered through the Fund’s online catalogue. In addition, a diabetes awareness and education program is in development and will be published next year. The program will address risk factors for diabetes, diabetes prevention and appropriate treatment and lifestyle modifications. Program materials will include instructor and participant guides, booklets, pamphlets and posters.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]