Each year on April 7, the World Health Organization (WHO) sponsors World Health Day, a day to focus on a particular health issue facing people around the world. This year the WHO is focusing on diabetes with their program Step Up: Beat Diabetes. They hope to increase awareness and bring attention to this complex disease through international activities, information, and open discussion online and in communities around the globe.
Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs when either the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin, or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. There are three major types of diabetes: Type 1, which is the most frequent among children and adolescents; Type 2, which is the most frequent among adults and is linked other health issues such as obesity and heart disease; and Gestational Diabetes, which is a complication of pregnancy that affects approximately 10 percent of pregnancies worldwide.
In the United States alone approximately 1.25 million children and adults have Type 1 diabetes and approximately 1.4 million Americans are diagnosed with some type of diabetes each year. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the US, although diabetes related deaths may be underreported as diabetes is associated with many other health issues such as hypertension, heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease.
Diabetes can cause numerous complications such as hypoglycemia, high cholesterol, and cardiovascular disease. Diabetes can lead to eye problems or blindness. Each year, more than 70,000 people undergo non-traumatic lower-limb amputations as a result of loss of circulation due to diabetes. Additionally, more than 228,000 people a year face kidney transplant or chronic dialysis because of diabetes.
It is estimated around the world the cost for diabetes-related expenses is $382,600,000,000 each year! In the US alone, the cost of diagnosed diabetes each year is more than $245 billion dollars. There is no known cure for diabetes, but every year, science gets closer to finding the cause and the cure of this debilitating illness. As awareness grows of the link between nutrition, fitness, and diabetes, more healthcare providers are encouraging individuals to take positive action to control or prevent Type 2 diabetes. Obesity and being overweight are the main risk factors for Type 2 diabetes, which affects 90 to 95 percent of people with diabetes. Maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle based on healthy nutrition and regular physical activity can prevent the many cases of type 2 diabetes.
For people who already have diabetes, it is important to maintain an appropriate blood glucose level in order to prevent or delay diabetes chronic complications, such as as blindness, neuropathy, kidney disease or peripheral vascular insufficiency – problems in the blood vessels that may lead to limb amputations, among others. Primary prevention of diabetes can be attained by implementing public policies to prevent obesity, such as those that increase availability and access to healthy food and physical activity, especially in elementary schools where children learn initial health concepts. For secondary prevention, it is important to reinforce policies that improve access to diabetes diagnosis, medical care, and affordable medication. With early intervention, diabetes can be minimized along with the long-term negative effects of the disease. Even those who have had the disease for years can improve overall health by working with their doctor to achieve a healthy diet and exercise program designed to reduce weight, increase cardiovascular fitness, and improve circulation.
To learn more about diabetes, visit the American Diabetes Association at www.diabetes.org. For more information on World Health Day and to find local activities, visit http://www.paho.org/world-health-day/.