03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

It's American Diabetes Month

As November approaches, we leave Halloween and breast cancer awareness behind for the next holiday in our yearly calendar of illnesses. Seems each month has its signature malady. Type 2 diabetes is such an American epidemic that we can skip giving kids bikes for Christmas and move right to the wheelchairs they'll be needing later in life. Forget the basketballs, baseball gloves and bats. Before you know it, all our video games, phones, Blackberries and other wireless devices will come with their own built-in glucose meters. They already come in designer colors; why not become a part of the rest of our overly connected lives?

More than 23 million American adults and children have type 2 diabetes -- nearly 8% of the population. And those are only the ones that have been diagnosed. It's estimated that as many as 5 million more have the disease. Oh, and more than 40 million Americans are pre-diabetic. If you're not concerned, you should be.

Type 2 diabetes is, hands down, the most preventable of all the lifestyle diseases that plague our modern society. Stealing our health and immersing us in the nightmare world of obesity, amputations, blindness, heart disease and kidney failure, type 2 diabetes is not only ruining the lives of adults, but is taking over the tender lives of our children, too.

And who created this monster? We did. We have allowed junk food marketers to prey on us all and we blindly swallow the swill they call food and then are shocked to see our health disappear. In 1980, only 5.8 million Americans suffered with this form of diabetes. Today, that number has soared past the 19 million mark according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yikes!

The CDC also estimates that close to $100 billion in medical costs along with more than $40 billion in indirect costs is being spent to deal with this mess we created with more than 19% of health costs being used on this insidious disease.

Fast food, soda, sugared cereals and snacks are more than well represented in the big money operations of the Fortune 500, but the costs on the other end are crushing us. And it seems that the only people who are paying attention to the fallout are pharmaceutical companies, drug stores and medical supply houses who are geared up for the misery that inevitably follows our love affair with junk food.

Labeled 'ideal targets for retailer and manufacturer programs aimed at driving sales growth,' (according to IRI marketing firm), the diseases that run alongside diabetes are cash cows for anyone in the business of selling meds. Obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, glucose meters and the drugs used to treat diabetes are big business, baby. Since many of these ailments are treated with prescription-based medications, it means frequent trips to shop and countless opportunities for retailers to market more junk to us.

Food manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies have played the sickest joke on America yet. With ever-exploding numbers of products that are low sugar, low carb and low fat along with expanding racks for diabetes management supplies, like insulin, blood sugar meters and syringes, you'd think it was hip and chic to develop diabetes. Well, for manufacturers of this stuff, it is. For you, as Jon Stewart says, not so much. This hotly competitive field is driven by the needs of the patient and the ability to market to them. Diabetes is profitable, since these companies can count on consistent business for the rest of the patient's life.

And while all those businesses sit back and wait for our diseased pancreases to fall into their hot little hands, the real tragedy is lost. The children of our nation will very likely be more acquainted with glucose test numbers than they will be with SAT scores.

And all the sexy marketing for the stuff of our world? The perfect bodies, the fashion, the cars, perfume, jewelry and shoes? As our kids grow old before they're 50, with the diseases of age as their hallmark, all this advertising will become a mockery of their lost health and vitality, not to mention blindness and lost limbs that are the signature of diabetic life.

No offense to diabetics, but sometimes the truth is tough to hear. You didn't get this from your mother or the fickle fingers of fate. Type 2 diabetes is the direct result of our food choices. I hate to see anyone suffer needlessly. Disease that is preventable is more heartbreaking to me than anything else. We allow ourselves to be led like lambs to slaughter because no one will tell the truth: that their stuffed crust pizza, washed down with soda and dessert is major contributor to Type 2 diabetes.

The prevalence of Type 2 diabetes increased markedly in the United States from 1990-1998, including a 76% rise among people aged 30 and older. Experts, according to the CDC, see no change in this trend, just the addition of more and more children being diagnosed.

This strong nation will have its butt royally kicked by a junk food habit if we don't stand up against the trash food that is constantly marketed to our kids and to us. We are out of time, but all is not lost. According to a study done by Dr. Neal Barnard, president and founder of Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine, a change in diet produces results only dreamed about by people whose lives are controlled by this dread disease.

Based on a series of research studies, Dr. Barnard and his colleagues have conducted (and had published in the August 2006 issues of 'Diabetes Care'); the results showed that a low-fat vegetarian diet was three times more effective than the American Diabetes Association diabetes guidelines at controlling blood sugar levels. And did I mention that the study also showed that individuals can lower their cholesterol, reduce blood pressure and lose weight? And eat as much food as they like? No weighing, no portioning. By explaining how a low-fat vegetarian actually alters what goes on in an individual's cells, Dr Barnard shows how a whole, unprocessed plant-based diet does more than just compensate for malfunctioning insulin. It helps repair how the body uses insulin. It's an amazing thing. We can eat our way back to health.

Just like October and 'The Cure,' November will be filled with walks, runs and other events to raise money for research to find a cure for diabetes. Well, don't hold your breath. The cure is easy and not expensive. Type 2 diabetes is nearly completely preventable, controllable and reversible. It's the food! All that money raised for research should be spent teaching Americans how to feed themselves healthfully so we can throw our little designer glucose meters in the junk drawer with other unnecessary gadgets we own.