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Topics > Healthy Outlook > Type II Diabetes is Becoming More Common

Type II Diabetes is Becoming More Common

Published by Contra Costa Times
Posted on Thu, Nov. 3, 2005
By Craig Desoer, MD

Wilma was upset, but not too surprised, when I told her that her blood tests showed she had diabetes. Her brother had had diabetes, and had lost a leg and some eyesight to the disease, before dying of a heart attack. At 65, she feared the same complications, so wanted to learn as much as she could about the disease.

The incidence of type II diabetes has been rising among all Americans, but especially seniors. In people age 65 - 74, diabetes has climbed from 9% in 1980 to 17% in 2002, an 89% increase. Why is type II diabetes becoming so common? To understand the answer to this question, one must understand how type II diabetes develops.

The basic energy unit of our bodies is the simple sugar molecule called glucose. The digestive system turns most foods, carbohydrates or "carbs," proteins such as meat, and fats such as oil or butter, into glucose, which our body uses to power our muscles and nervous system.

When a person eats more food than the body needs, the excess glucose is turned into fat. The hormone responsible for using glucose and storing it as fat is insulin. The more food intake, the more insulin the body needs. The pancreas, an organ located behind the stomach which produces the insulin, tries to keep up with the all the glucose used for energy and the extra stored as fat.

In some cases, though, the pancreas can no longer keep up. Because of increasing amounts of body fat, and depending on ones genetic makeup, the body may eventually become resistant to insulin. So, glucose becomes trapped in the blood, levels start to rise, and diabetes sets in.

Lack of physical activity and overeating can cause extra fat storage and weight gain, which can overwork the pancreas and worsen insulin resistance. Family history, ethnic background, and getting older can worsen these problems. Since diabetes is increasing for all age groups, and our genes haven’t changed much in the last twenty years, it is the decreasing levels of activity and/or increasing body weight that have caused most of the increase in type II diabetes.

Children now have hours of "screen time," including television, video games and computers, instead of playing outdoors. Schools have decreased physical education time. Younger adults spend many hours browsing the internet instead of being active. Many adults work longer hours instead of getting exercise, and often shove down fried or fast food to save time.

When older adults get arthritis, many use electric scooters instead of canes or walkers. People wait many minutes for the closest parking spot, to avoid even a brief walk to the store.

So what can we do? Studies have shown that even 30 minutes of walking a day can help. Instead of waiting for the closest parking spot, take one further from the store entrance. Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.

Weight loss of even 15 or 20 pounds for those who are overweight can also be beneficial. Request a take out container when ordering at a restaurant, and save half the serving or more for another meal.

Give your pancreas less work; help your body avoid diabetes and its dangerous consequences.

Dr. Desoer practices family medicine at the Pittsburg Health Center. Healthy Outlook is written by the professional staff of Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department. Send questions to series coordinator Dr. David Pepper at theairdoctor@gmail.com. For more health information, go to www.cchealth.org.


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