Comment from the Program Director
Eva Vivian, Pharm.D. associate professor of pharmacy at the University of Wisconsin is alarmed at the increasing prevalence of obesity and diabetes in young Latinos and African Americans. "We're seeing diabetes diagnosed much earlier in life than ever before," says Dr. Vivian. "We're seeing it among teens and people in their 20s.
Vivian wants more people, especially African Americans and Latinos, to be aware of the disease, get tested for it and to make changes in their lifestyle to delay or prevent it.
The diabetes in question is called type 2 and here’s how it works: When a person eats, the body ordinarily turns food into glucose, or sugar, to use as fuel. In healthy people, a hormone called insulin helps move glucose into cells. But in people with type 2 diabetes, something goes awry-the body might not make enough insulin, or the cells ignore it.
It's a lifelong disease for which there is yet no cure, and it may cause serious kidney disease, blindness, leg amputations and cardiovascular disease.
"Ten years ago, the children identified with diabetes would normally be type 1," says Vivian. In type 1 diabetes, the body attacks and kills cells in the pancreas, which makes insulin. People with Type 1 diabetes must use insulin; people with type 2 diabetes can control diabetes with diet and exercise, though some may need oral medications and insulin injections as well.
Vivian says the big culprits appear to be inactivity and obesity. And it makes sense: 75 percent of patients diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are obese, and by the government's estimate, about 6 million American children are now overweight enough to put their health in danger.
"The good news is that with the proper change in lifestyle, you may prevent development or delay the onset of this type of diabetes," Vivian says. "And the whole family needs to do that, not just one family member."
Vivian recommends getting a screening for diabetes, which is a quick and simple blood test. Type 2 diabetes often shows no symptoms until a patient's blood sugar gets very high. The screenings are particularly important for those who have other family members with type 2 diabetes, are overweight, weighed more than nine pounds or less than five pounds when they were born or had babies that weighed nine pounds or more at birth, have high blood pressure or have high cholesterol.
The main treatment for early stage diabetes is altering a patient's meal plan and increasing physical activity, such as taking walks regularly, she says. If that doesn't help within a few weeks, physicians can prescribe medications that help.
Finally, Vivian says, patients need to be careful with diabetes and pregnancy. Latinas tend to have a higher risk for gestational diabetes-diabetes that appears during pregnancy and eases after childbirth. Women who have had gestational diabetes have a significant risk for getting type 2 diabetes later, so they need to be followed by a physician. And women with type 1 or 2 diabetes who want to become pregnant should check with their physician before pregnancy, as well, to prevent complications.