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Pre-Diabetes A Health Warning, Experts Say

Federal Health Officials Begin New Prevention Efforts

Forty-one million Americans have blood sugar levels high enough to put them at risk of developing diabetes - more than twice the previous estimate.Picture of a man working at a computer

The new number means two of every five adults ages 40 to 74 is now considered to have pre-diabetes, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reports.

"These latest numbers show how urgent the problem really is," says HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson. "We need to help Americans take steps to prevent diabetes or we will risk being overwhelmed by the health and economic consequences of an ever-growing diabetes epidemic."

About 18 million people in the US have diabetes, with 1.3 million new cases diagnosed every year.

Most people have type 2 diabetes, which is a result of the body's inability to make enough, or to properly use, insulin. Insulin is a hormone manufactured by the pancreas, which helps glucose leave the blood and enter the muscles and other tissues of the body.

Diabetes is a leading cause of heart disease, blindness, kidney failure and amputations, causing more than 200,000 deaths in the US every year.

Pre-diabetes "puts someone at risk not only of diabetes but also of heart attack and stroke," says Dr. Linda S. Geiss, chief of diabetes surveillance at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

There are no agreed-upon estimates of the percentage of people with pre-diabetes who will develop the full-blown disease, Dr. Geiss says. But it is known that "taking preventive measures can return a pre-diabetic person to normal," she says. Those measures include proper nutrition and exercise.

Pre-diabetes can be diagnosed by the "impaired glucose tolerance" test, which measures blood sugar levels before eating anything in the morning.

Until last November, a level below 110 milligrams of glucose per deciliter of blood was described as normal. The new guideline lowers the bar, so a reading of 100 or higher classifies someone as pre-diabetic.

The new estimate comes from applying that standard to data from the latest National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, Dr. Geiss said.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) is using the new guideline to call for what it says are relatively simple lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of developing diabetes.

"The biggest drivers include the high prevalence of obesity, which in turn is driven by exercise habits and diet habits," says Dr. Gene Barrett, president of the ADA and professor of medicine at the University of Virginia.

Adults should be doing the minimum amount of exercise recommended by many health organizations - 30 minutes of moderate activity at least three days a week, Dr. Barrett says. They also should avoid "high-calorie, high-density foods," he said.

Parents also should be looking after their children, with an eye not only toward having them exercise regularly but also "the easy availability of soft drinks and fast foods in school meal programs," Dr. Barrett said.

Losing just 5 percent of body weight - 10 pounds for a 200-pound adult - can move someone out of the pre-diabetic state into better health, he says.

Always consult your physician for more information.

This article is from the Anne Arundel Medical Center Neighbors News, June 2004


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