Diabetes: Is It America's Future?

Nov 11, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

The statistics are staggering. According to the Centers for Disease Control, diabetes will affect one in three Americans by 2050 and one in three children born this year will develop diabetes in their lifetime. That is unless something is done to curb the unhealthy lifestyle trends in the United States.

This new CDC report predicts that the number of new diabetes cases each year will increase from eight per 1,000 people in 2008 to 15 per 1,000 in 2050.

Currently, diabetes affects one in ten adults in the U.S. and that is terrifying. But it will get worse. The CDC cites an aging population, an increase in minority groups with a predisposition to the condition as some of the reasons for these scary predictions.

However, the real culprit in the rise in diabetes is the increasing number of Americans who are obese. According to Dr Richard Besser, ABC's chief health and medical editor, obesity is the biggest changeable factor in this equation and, in his opinion, we have not been able to tackle the obesity problem in this country.

Other medical professionals share the concern. Dr. Charles Clark, professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine says that this is just "the latest in a series of disturbing epidemiologic studies on the diabetes pandemic." Yes, he called diabetes a pandemic, like when we were all terrified of the avian flu pandemic -- that kind of pandemic -- a wide scale crisis type of pandemic. Dr. Clark goes on to say that the trend for the average age of diagnosis will continue to be younger as childhood obesity and sedentary lifestyles go unchecked and become the norm of American life. It can move from adults to kids faster than we can say "pandemic" at this rate.

And diabetes is not just breaking our backs health wise. It's taking a financial toll that is crushing us: $174 billion is spent each and every year to treat diabetes and its related illnesses, according to the American Diabetes Association.

And of course, the pharmaceutical companies are thrilled with this. Their business is exploding in light of these new statistics. I can almost hear the applause as these predictions were revealed. I saw red; they saw green -- as in cold, hard cash. Maybe it's time for more of them to take a stand as Merck did when they created Merck Engaged, a program that tries to educate people on living healthy lives and taking care of themselves; even working to prevent diabetes. It's time they stopped only profiting from illness and worked for collective health. A naïve notion, I know, but one that must be considered if we want to get out of this alive. We will always need pharmaceuticals, but we don't need designer blood glucose monitors. We need responsible experts to help lead us out of this mess.

Because the real kicker is that in the majority of cases, according to experts like Dr. Besser, healthy lifestyle changes can help prevent and control diabetes. And while he concedes that we can't avoid getting older or alter our family history and resulting risk factor, we can take on obesity with lifestyle, proper diet and regular exercise.

So what does this mean to us? This could easily be the greatest public health issue we face today. The stakes are high and the toll too devastating to fail. Check this out: According to the CDC, twice as many women die of diabetes than of breast cancer and deaths from AIDS pale in comparison to even the current diabetes mortality.

Truthfully, if this doesn't make you change your life and become healthier, I don't know what will.

Dr Neal Barnard, president of Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine http://www.pcrm.orghas completed a study funded by the National Institute of Health that shows that adopting a low-fat, vegetarian diet can help repair how the body uses insulin. Dr. Barnard's approach has people embrace new food groups, whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruit and gives people the ability to control blood sugar three times more effectively than with standard dietary guidelines for people with diabetes.

It seems like a no brainer, right? Here we are, smack dab in the middle of a health crisis epidemic that is just about completely preventable. The statistics are alarming and scary. We stand at the precipice. Experts like Dr. Barnard offer a serious way out of this crisis and yet, Americans don't take the advice.

We know the facts. We hear about them every day on one news show or another. We are told by expert after expert that we must change the way we live and eat. We must stop chowing down on dinner in a bucket, burgers and fries the size of small countries, soda, candy, cookies, pastries, fried animal parts as staples of our diet; we need to exercise regularly and take our health seriously.

Our response? We get fatter and less healthy. We continue to eat as though there is no tomorrow. And if we keep this up, there might not be one.

There is not a person who can read that doesn't know that the way we eat is killing us, literally. And yet, we continue. I know. I know. These foods taste great ... how does natural food compete? How does a simple apple compete with cookies? How does Mother Nature compete with the chemistry that gives us chips with the flavor of ranch dressing right in the chips? Jeez, right?

It's time to grow up and let go of the childish habits that have gotten us into this mess. Yes, we are marketed to with a virulence that rivals a tsunami. And yes, most food manufacturers just keep raising the bar on how decadent and unhealthy they can make a food. But in the end, it's us. We keep on buying the swill they sell as food. We buy 900-calorie coffee drinks and huge fat-laden burgers and fried chicken pieces with cheese and bacon between them like a sandwich.

You can make all the arguments you choose: it's easy, affordable, accessible, fun and fits into our busy, overly connected lives. But we're lying to ourselves.

The truth is we just want what we want and until we are diagnosed with a problem; until we're told our health is in jeopardy; until we're face to face with the grim reaper, all these problems, these health crises are outside of us. They don't affect our lives. They are not part of our universe. So why would we change anything? We're not sick. Yet.

Why wait, I say. With these new predictions, it's time to take control of our health and begin to take care of these bodies we have been given. Life and health are gifts to be cherished, not squandered and ignored.

For me, the real kicker is that we don't even know we feel bad, because we are so used to feeling bad. We think it's age or stress or overwork; we think our aches and pains are just middle age and not enough rest. But the truth is that most of the things that plague us are caused by the food we eat and the lifestyle we choose. If we chose food fit for human consumption, we would feel strong, vital, healthy, and ageless and could avoid most of the lifestyle diseases that are causing our collective health to degenerate at an alarming rate.

I believe that Americans should make lifestyle choices that support health and vitality. Times are hard and it will take strong, vital people to bring us back from the brink. You are either part of the solution or part of the problem. Decide.