Before you reach for that glass of sweet tea or second helping of apple pie this Fourth of July, consider this: you may be among the more than 1.6 million Ohioans expected to develop obesity-related Type 2 diabetes by 2030, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
Ohio has seen a dramatic increase in diabetes over the past decade, and experts say the number of newly diagnosed cases could skyrocket if the adult obesity trend continues its upward trajectory.
About 30 percent of Ohioans are obese, or have a body mass index, or BMI, above 30. The state’s obesity rate is up from 23 percent in 2002, according to health department statistics, which show the prevalence of diabetes has risen along with obesity from 6.5 percent of the population to about 10 percent over the same period.
Experts say there is no direct link between obesity and diabetes because not everyone who is obese will develop diabetes.
But “there is definitely a correlation between obesity and diabetes, and there is no doubt that obesity is the No. 1 risk factor for diabetes,” said Gwen Stacy, a registered dietitian with the Ohio Diabetes Prevention and Control Program.
She said the vast majority of people enrolled in diabetes prevention programs across the state are obese and lead sedentary lifestyles.
“That’s why in our programs we talk about discovering more ways to be more physically active, eat healthier and manage your diet,” said Stacy, who said even moderate weight loss and exercise can prevent or delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 is the most common form of diabetes and most often develops in adults when their bodies either stop producing enough of the hormone insulin or become resistant to insulin, which is necessary to efficiently remove sugar from the bloodstream. Too much sugar in the blood can lead to kidney failure, cardiovascular disease and even blindness.
And simply living with diabetes can be life-altering, said Janet Abney of Vandallia, whose daughter, Carla Gilmore, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes two years ago.
“She got married last fall, but she’s afraid to have children because she doesn’t want to pass it on,” said Abney as she was picking up blood-sugar testing supplies for her 27-year-old daughter earlier this week at the Diabetes Association of Dayton on Dixie Highway. “I’d love to be a grandmother again, but what can you do? Life happens.”
Gilmore is among the just over 886,000 Ohio adults who have been diagnosed with diabetes, according to the health department’s 2012 Ohio Diabetes Fact Sheet. Another 200,000 have either been diagnosed with gestational diabetes or prediabetes, increasing their risk of progressing to Type 2 diabetes later in life.
The rapid increase in diabetes is major public health concern, but it also has serious financial consequences for taxpayers who shoulder much of the cost of care through government-funded Medicaid and Medicare programs for the poor and elderly — groups who have the highest concentrations of the disease.
The medical cost of treating obesity-related diseases in Ohio, including diabetes, was about $7 billion in 2009, and Medicare and Medicaid were responsible for about 42 percent of the cost, according to the latest figures available from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
A mere 5 percent reduction in the average BMI in Ohio would prevent 342,192 cases of Type 2 diabetes by 2030, and save the state $10 million in medical costs, according to the diabetes fact sheet.
Susan McGovern, executive director of the Diabetes Association of Dayton, blames lack of awareness and “complete apathy on the part of general population” for the sharp rise in diabetes in the local area.
Since 2002, the Dayton metro area has seen the the number of people living with diabetes climb from about 8 percent of the population to about 12 percent, according to state figures.
But McGovern said its difficult for her group — a local, independent diabetes agency not affiliated with other agencies, such as the American Diabetes Association — to combat the trend because its hard to convince donors to give money or supplies to fight a disease. She said many potential donors believe people with diabetes “brought it on themselves” with poor diets and lack of exercise.
It’s not that simple, McGovern said, noting that both genes and environment contribute to developing diabetes.
“Many of our clients live in neighborhoods where they don’t feel safe walking or riding their bikes,” she said. “Others live in what we call food deserts, where access to fresh produce and other healthy foods is limited.
“Most of these issues disproportionately impact poor and minority communities, which is one of the reasons rates are so high in those communities,” she said.
While anyone can develop diabetes, ethnic background and socioeconomic status also play key roles.
Rates are highest among African-Americans and Hispanics. There is also a strong correlation between diabetes and income and education levels, with the poorest and least-educated having the highest incidence of the disease.
In Ohio, African-Americans represent about 12 percent of the population, but account for 15 percent of all adults diagnosed with diabetes, according health department statistics.
That compares to a diabetes rate of 10 percent for non-Hispanic whites, who make up more than 80 percent of the population, and just over 6 percent for those of Hispanic or Latino origin, who comprised about 3 percent of the population.
By income, 16.3 percent of Ohioans earning less than $15,000 a year have been diagnosed with diabetes, while just 7.2 percent of Ohioans with annual incomes above $50,000 have the disease.
“A lot people we see just can’t afford to test or take their medicine,” said McGovern, who’s agency gives away donated medical supplies such as glucose monitors and test strips once a year. “A vial of 50 test strips can cost $50, and insurance isn’t going to help you that much. If your doctor has told you to test three or four times a day, that’s not going to last you very long.
“So what happens is people just stop testing and end up in crisis, having to go to the emergency center,” she said. “That’s frightening, and it’s sad because most of the time that trip to the hospital could have been prevented.”
TABLE: To see a breakdown how the Southwest Ohio region compares to Ohio and the nation regarding diabetes and obesity, log onto MyDaytonDailyNews.com.
What are my risks for diabetes?
Family History: Has any close family member been diagnosed with any form of diabetes?
Overweight/Obese: Are you or a family member overweight or have been classified by a doctor as obese?
Activity Level: Do you get less than 3 hours of exercise per week?
Blood Pressure: Do you have high blood pressure or low HDL (good) cholesterol levels?
Racial/Ethnic Background: Diabetes prevalence rates are highest among African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians.
Age: Are you older than 45?