These days, it's hard to ignore the news of exploding increases in type 2 diabetes. According to a recently published study, nearly 350 million people worldwide now have type 2 diabetes, which is twice the number of adults who had diabetes just 30 years ago. And here in the U.S., the incidence of diabetes is rising twice as fast as in Western Europe, say researchers.
What's really scary is that diabetes doesn't just affect you in the short term. It is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality, which triggers the onset of heart disease, stroke, kidney and nerve problems, and a host of other problems. These aren't just "things that happen to other people" either. These are very real consequences that can happen to anyone who isn't taking steps to keep their diabetes under control.
Despite these very real risks, a study presented last month at the 71st Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association found that nearly 90% people with diabetes know that healthier habits (like weight loss) could help their condition, but very few take any action: Only 70% tried to lose weight within the last year; less than 1/3 of those maintained that loss for more than 6 months. Only 13% had been physically active within the last week, even though 63% said their doctors has told them to start exercising.
My grandpa was one of those people. And his choice not to change his diet or lifestyle killed him.
We've never been sure whether he was in denial about his health problems, or if he just put on a brave face. Or perhaps he really thought that the dozen or so medications he took each day were controlling or curing his medical issues to the point that he didn't have to do anything else. Maybe he was too optimistic—he just figured that all that bad stuff would never happen to him. After all, his father (my great-grandpa) lived to be 103. While he wasn't an educated man, he was smart and didn't lack in resources. He did visit his doctor regularly, and he did know which foods were good for him and which weren't. But no matter what we said to him, what foods we tried to show him, or how many scares he had at the doctor's office or hospital (his final years were marked by multiple visits to the ER, long stays in intensive care, dialysis for kidney failure, and more), he seemed to always bounce back—and he never changed his ways. We all know that it was these unhealthy habits—a lack of physical activity, a diet of fast food, frozen meals and restaurant fare that was high in fat, sodium and calories and low in vital nutrients—that took his life much too early. He died at the age of 72, a mere 8 years after his official diabetes diagnosis.
When I read stats about diabetes increasing, or meet people with diabetes who aren't taking steps to lose weight or get active, I think of him. He was one of the coolest people I ever knew, a person who was fun and hilarious and whose booming voice and laughter would fill our ears and now, our memories. We still miss him every day. Perhaps you know someone like him.
So why is it that people know what they need to do but simply won't do it? Maybe they know general things, but not specifics. Maybe it seems too hard. Maybe they don't realize the real consequences of NOT changing. Perhaps they don't have the motivation or support to keep it going. I do think that in many cases, people just don't know where to begin. Whatever the reason, there are a lot of resources available that can help people with diabetes get started—and stay motivated.
In the last year, I've been working really diligently with the SparkPeople staff and our experts to add more diabetes information and features to the SparkPeople.com. From articles about better food choices to our popular 8-Week Diabetes Weight Loss Challenge, to our brand new Spark*D Diabetes Management Program and weekly diabetes newsletters, we're doing everything we can to provide resources and tools that will help people with diabetes rewrite the future. And all of these tools are 100% free and accessible to anyone with Internet access.
We all know what a huge problem diabetes is, and it's only predicted to increase worldwide over the years. While the story of my grandpa is a sad one for our family, yours doesn't have to be. Every day, people with diabetes are learning to manage their condition to prevent these unwelcome outcomes—and it really isn't that hard. Anyone can choose to do it. Yes, it can be scary and overwhelming at first, and yes, it will be difficult. There will be setbacks, like most things in life. But doing something (taking the stairs, walking for 10 minutes, learning to read food labels, preparing just one more meal at home, losing just a 10 pounds) will help more than doing nothing.
I write this post in honor of my grandfather and I hope you will take this story to heart. If anyone you know has type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes (or could be at risk), I hope you will share this story with them so they, too, can take advantage of SparkPeople's free Spark*D program and resources. Together, we can change our future and get healthier!
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