There are thousands of people we pass on the streets each day, but each one is unique. They have different backgrounds, are at different stages in their lives, have very individualized hopes, and are trying to resolve their particular troubles. But there is one medical challenge that many of them share: diabetes. Unfortunately, it is a very serious one.
In New York State, an estimated two million people -- 12.5% of the population -- suffers from this condition. Of these, 517,000 have diabetes but are unaware of it. Even more shocking is that there are more than 5.4 million New Yorkers -- more than 36 percent of the population -- that has prediabetes.
Diabetes is not a new problem, but what is new is its increasing prevalence. Back in 1958, only 1.6 million Americans or 0.93% of the population had this condition. But by 2015, 23.4 million people, or 7.4% of the population, had been diagnosed with it.
Since then this number has continued to skyrocket. According to the CDC, cases of diabetes reached an estimated 34.2 million in 2020 -- an increase of nearly 11 million cases -- in just five years.
A Pandemic Of Diabetes
Here’s how the CDC explains this disease. Most of the food we eat is broken down into sugar and released into the bloodstream. When a person’s blood sugar level increases, “it signals the pancreas to release insulin. The insulin acts like a key to let the blood sugar into your body’s cells for use as energy.”
Although the human body is an amazing machine, sometimes it doesn’t function perfectly, and that’s what happens with diabetics; either their bodies do not make enough insulin or they cannot use the insulin made efficiently.
“When there isn’t enough insulin or cells stop responding to insulin, too much blood sugar stays in your bloodstream,” explains the CDC. If this happens over a long time it can cause serious health problems including heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease, among others.
Diabetes is a serious problem in the Jewish community. This, however, is also true of other ethnic groups, including Asians, Latinos, and African Americans. It is also common among some low-income people, presumably because they cannot afford to purchase quality foods. And the foods they can afford to purchase may be prone to causing or exacerbating this disease.
People all around the country are affected by diabetes, but the cities and states with the highest and lowest incidents usually fluctuate. As of September 2021, West Virginia had the highest adult rate of diabetes at 15.7%, and Colorado the lowest at 7.5%.
In March 2020, Miami, New Orleans, and Charlotte were among the cities with the highest rates of diabetes. Of all the major metro areas, Minneapolis had the lowest rate. However, even there the news is not all good because it’s projected that 12% of the population will have this disease by 2030. Overseas, the Marshall Islands has a diabetes rate of 30.5%, the highest in the world.
A Very High Cost
A major study of diabetes concluded in 2017 estimated the total national cost at $327 billion. It found that $1 out of every $4 in US health care costs was spent on caring for diabetics.
$237 billion of this amount was spent on direct medical costs, while an additional $90 billion was generated by absenteeism, reduced productivity, and unemployment. These are incredibly high costs even by today’s standards, but to really understand how high they are, consider them on an individual basis.
MarketWatch described them as “staggering.” In 2017, diabetics incurred on average annual medical costs of about $13,700 per year, of which about $7,900 was directly attributed to diabetes,” according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA).
The ADA also estimated that “the medical expenditures of diabetics were approximately 2.3 times higher than what they would have been had they not had diabetes.”
Fate And Discipline
In general, people have very little control over their fate -- if any at all. Regarding diabetes, however, by being very disciplined and, in some cases, by making small lifestyle changes, it may be possible to control, delay, or in some cases even prevent certain types of diabetes.
Consider the following, which appears on johnmuirhealth.com. The National Institutes of Health conducted a breakthrough study to show that diet and exercise can delay diabetes. The clinical trial proved that a half hour of walking or other low-intensity exercise daily, combined with a low-fat diet, reduced the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58 percent.
Most of us lead pressured lives and have too little leisure time, so even limited time spent walking is not always possible. This is particularly true in the frum community, where many people begin their day especially early in order to attend minyan (prayer services) and sometimes to join early morning classes. In the evening, too, many people study with a group in person or learn online; they also enjoy spending time with their families. Most of these are done in a sedentary position. This leaves little time for exercising at the end of the day.
A related problem is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to rid our diets of sugar, which aggravates this disease, because it is found in many foods that one does not think of as sweet. Pasta sauce, canned soup, instant oatmeal, granola bars, some yogurt and other dairy products, cheese, salad dressing and coleslaw, to name just a few, are in this group.
There isn’t a cure for diabetes yet, but researchers are optimistic that one will be found. In fact, some promising new medicines are in advanced stages of testing. Meanwhile, diabetics (and everyone else) are advised to be careful about watching their weight, eating healthy food, and being active to the extent one can. Of course, they should also consult with a physician and follow his/her advice.
Diabetes remains a serious condition. However, given all that’s been learned about this disease, controlling it and the medications available these days, it is possible to mitigate the impact it has on our lives. And that’s certainly good news.
Sources: cdc.gov; diabetes.org; diabetesjournals.org; johnmuirhealth.com; marketwatch.com; stateofchildhoodobesity.org; worldpopulationreview.com