Americans' bad habits put them at higher risk for preventable disease

Posted: Thursday, June 19, 2003

Exotic diseases such as SARS, monkey pox and West Nile virus are guaranteed to get exhaustive media coverage and intense public attention. They're dangerous, scary and, if you cross paths with the wrong cougher, mosquito or prairie dog, hard to prevent.

Not that we shouldn't all be on the lookout for unusual germs, but Americans would be wise to pay far more attention to a preventable disease that threatens millions.

Its name is diabetes, an old disease spread not by germs but, for the most part, overindulgent modern lifestyles.

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last weekend had this astounding news: One out of every three Americans born in the year 2000 will probably develop this disease.

If the projection is correct, that means between 45 million and 50 million Americans could be diabetic by the year 2050. Currently, 17 million Americans have the disease 16 million of them with the adult-onset type of diabetes most often linked with obesity and lack of exercise.

Even more at risk are Hispanics and African Americans. The CDC predicted that more than half of Hispanic females born in 2000 would become diabetic during their lives.

The human cost is devastating: Diabetics can lose limbs, kidney function or go blind. Their chances of heart disease and stroke are at least double that of the general population.

The social cost is just as great: Imagine a country and health system struggling to deal with such an overwhelming number of cases. It's a terrible prospect. But the good news is that the nightmare needn't come true. Diabetes is a disease many people can avoid by the choices they make.

Children born three years ago are acquiring even now the nutrition and exercise habits they'll keep for a lifetime. Most are learning to eat too many high-calorie meals and snacks, too often, with too little physical activity. Good parents wouldn't dream of letting their toddlers run off with strangers. It's long past time they recognized this more common threat.

The Philadelphia Inquirer

June 17

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