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Diabetes epidemic reversible, experts say

Julie Joiner, dietitian, Diabetes Care Center at Phoebe Putney Hospital, said that most of us could avoid type 2 diabetes by eating healthy foods and exercising just 20 or 30 minutes each day. A recent report shows the incidence of type 2 diabetes in teens has increased from 9 percent to 23 percent during the past 10 years.

Julie Joiner, dietitian, Diabetes Care Center at Phoebe Putney Hospital, said that most of us could avoid type 2 diabetes by eating healthy foods and exercising just 20 or 30 minutes each day. A recent report shows the incidence of type 2 diabetes in teens has increased from 9 percent to 23 percent during the past 10 years.

ALBANY, Ga. -- "Surprise, you have diabetes." Unless you have the disease already, that could be the unpleasant outcome of a sedentary lifestyle, coupled with a disregard for thoughtful eating.

According to new data from the Centers for Disease Control's National Health and Examination Survey, the number of American teens with diabetes or prediabetes has skyrocketed from 9 percent to a staggering 23 percent over the past ten years. The data, which was published recently in the journal Pediatrics, resulted from a study of nearly 3,400 children ages 12 to 19.

The incidence of diabetes increase occurred even though the rate of overweight and obese teens -- 34 percent -- did not change significantly from 1999 through 2008, the report stated. The prevalence of prehypertension and high blood pressure also stayed relatively stable, at around 14 percent, as did high levels of LDL or "bad" cholesterol, at 22 percent.

In a 2002 edition of Clinical Diabetes, Francine Ratner Kaufman, MD, then president of the American Diabetes Association, said that in 1992 it was rare for most pediatric centers to have patients with type 2 diabetes. By 1994 type 2 diabetes accounted for up to 16 percent of new cases of pediatric diabetes in urban areas.

Type 2 diabetes is the milder, more avoidable form of the disease, according to Julie Joiner, dietitian, Diabetes Care Center at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. Until recent years, type 2 was commonly referred to as "Adult Onset" diabetes because it was rarely diagnosed in people less than 45 year of age. All of that has changed, primarily because of fast-food availability and a less than active lifestyle.

"We have fast-food on every corner," Joiner said, "We sit in front of a computer screen a lot of the time, we don't exercise like we used to, we don't walk to school. Those things don't happen anymore because of culture and society."

Joiner says the best way to stay ahead of type 2 diabetes is to eat at home or make your meals there and bring them with you. Regular exercise is crucial.

"Quantity is the biggest thing," Joiner said. "If I eat at home I'll probably have a 500-calorie meal, where if I go out I'm looking at 1000 calories or maybe even 1500. For a dollar more you can supersize it. What a value!" Joiner said that even 100 calories a day beyond what it takes to maintain a proper weight can result in a gain of ten pounds in a year."

Joiner says parents frequently claim their busy lifestyles don't always allow healthy food choices and so they're forced to rely on the fatty burgers, fries, and giant soft drinks filled with empty calories.

"I tell them no you don't have to do fast food. That's what crockpots are for and what quick, easy meals on a George Foreman grill are for. That's what a low-fat grilled cheese sandwich with a tomato slice is for. There's nothing that says you have to do fast food if you have evening activities with your children. You just have to think in advance and plan a little bit."

For most people, a reasonable weight, achieved through healthy diet, and moderate daily exercise dramatically lowers the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This is especially true, Joiner says, for Caucasians, who seem to enjoy some genetic protection from the disease. As a group, African-Americans and Hispanics experience a significantly higher rate of type 2 diabetes, as do Orientals, even when culture is factored in. About half of adult Pima Indians are diabetic.

According to Joiner, there are plenty of good books out there on how to prepare meals which are not only healthy, but quick and easy as well. To be sure, look for endorsement by The American Diabetes Association or The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Joiner warns against any type of fad diet, which may be designed to make money for the author.

"There is no magic pill or bullet," Joiner said. "Eat the way you should and exercise 20 to 30 minutes a day."

While type 2 diabetes is no less than epidemic, the tide can be reversed. Type 1 diabetes is another matter. According to Joiner, there is nothing to be done to avoid this even more serious form of the disease. Heredity is known to be a huge factor, though some cases may be caused by viruses. Those who suffer from type 1 diabetes must inject insulin to live, Joiner said, because their pancreas is sick or essentially non-functioning. Unlike type 2, which can exist for years without detection, type 1 diabetes makes its prescence known through a host of unsavory symptoms.

Catherine Giddens, 56, an African-American living in Leesburg, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was eight years old. She has an implanted insulin pump and continues to inject insulin several times a day. Diabetes runs in her family, she said, and has taken the lives of her three brothers.

A few years ago, Catherine's husband, Eddie, was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and the pair continue to urge everyone who will listen to have themselves screened regularly for the disease.

"Diabetes is exactly like a cancer," Catherine Giddens said, "except that people aren't paying enough attention to it. It's eating at your organs. The earlier you get checked and get on your medication, the better off you'll be."