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Editorial: Increase in diabetes is critical health issue for the region

Nov. 18, 2012 @ 10:35 PM

In the advertising for many weight loss products, the reward is often slipping back into that old pair of skinny jeans.

That is quite an accomplishment, and looking and feeling better are two great reasons to shed some pounds. But Americans also need to understand that the national struggle with obesity and weight gain is about a lot more than just looking good at the beach.

Those XL sizes often are accompanied by much more serious and costly consequences. Diabetes is right at the top of the list of obesity-related health problems, and new research shows that situation is only getting worse.

The Center for Disease Control reports that between 1995 and 2010, the prevalence of diabetes rose by more than 50 percent in most states and more than 100 percent in 18 states. Unfortunately, Kentucky and West Virginia are leading the way with increases of 158 percent and 131 percent, among the highest rates in the nation.

In 1995, about 3-4 percent of the adults in Kentucky and West Virginia had been diagnosed with diabetes. Now, that figure is around 10 percent. As frightening as those numbers are, they only show part of the picture, because many people who have diabetes are unaware of their condition.

For example, the CDC estimates about 14 percent of adults in Cabell County have diabetes, with a lower range of 12 percent and an upper range of over 16 percent. In nine West Virginia counties and eight Kentucky counties, that upper range estimate is over 18 percent. The highest estimates are in McDowell County, W.Va., and Letcher County, Ky., at 19.9 percent.

The only silver linings in the situation are:

Better treatments mean more people with diabetes are living longer. However, early diagnosis and management are critical to avoiding costly and harmful complications.

Education and prevention efforts can be successful. Marshall University, for example, is working with the Appalachian Diabetes Control and Translation Project, and those programs can prevent or delay the onset of diabetes for many patients.

But there is no cure for diabetes, and providing expensive treatment for a growing percentage of the population can only add to our rising health-care costs. These numbers underscore that promoting better diet and exercise in our region is more than just a nice thing to do. It is a critical health and economic issue.

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