I am a diabetologist, meaning I specialize and focus on the prevention and treatment of diabetes. We need to shine a spotlight on prevention because prediabetes, in most cases, is reversible before it progresses to Type 2 diabetes. That is certainly good news.
Now is an opportune time to laser-focus that prevention spotlight since November is National Diabetes Month.
My interest in diabetes started with trying to help members of my own family take charge to improve their health. You don’t have to have prediabetes or diabetes to learn about prevention. If we take action early, we can prevent dangerous complications. I want to empower every patient to feel confident enough to take charge of their health. Bring questions to your appointments.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is estimated that 96 million U.S. adults aged 18 years or older had prediabetes in 2019.
Most medical and public health professionals agree that we must address the social determinants of health (SDoH) to develop strategies to promote social and physical health in every community, for every age and at every stage of life.
SDoH are the conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship and age that impact a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. Healthcare experts turn to housing security, quality food access and transportation interventions to address SDoH, all of which are concerns in Whatcom County and beyond.
Type 2 diabetes increased in young people during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Obesity and Type 2 diabetes present significant public health challenges. The link between the two conditions is important because too many extra pounds substantially increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes, which is a major cause of premature mortality and contributes to a range of long-term health conditions including heart disease, microvascular complications including eye disease, foot disease and chronic kidney disease. People living in deprived areas and some minority ethnic groups are at particularly high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, which is associated with higher patient care costs and wider costs to society. These scenarios are not inevitable, but they are likely if we carry on as we are.
These suggestions below won’t change SDoH, but they are things that families can do to help their kids avoid being diagnosed with diabetes when they are combined with healthier eating. Setting a new normal can lead to healthier habits for everyone in the family – and it can be fun. Moderate exercise is one family strategy, start slow and build up at a pace that works for you.
• Aim for 60 minutes of physical activity a day, but 10- or 15-minute sessions are okay
• Stay positive and focus on progress
• Encourage your child to join a sports team
• Keep a jump rope, hand weights and resistance bands at home
• Throw a frisbee
• Limit screen time
• Take walks together – after a meal is a great time
• Move more – both in and out of the house such as raking leaves, shoveling snow and gardening
To sum up: About 1 in 3 people under the age of 21 is at risk for Type 2 diabetes due to weight issues and inactivity.
Young people with Type 2 diabetes develop complications faster than those who develop Type 2 diabetes as adults.
Remember, even little changes add up to a healthier life. Take a walk, ride a bike, blast your music and dance, without spending a penny. Daily physical activity has lots of health benefits – better sleep, weight loss, stress reduction and improved blood pressure.
These positive changes can start right at home. Consider this thought: Healthy aging begins early in life. So, look at this as a family affair.
Dr. Gelou is in private practice in Bellingham and volunteers with the Mount Baker Foundation Kidney Health Awareness initiative.
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