Diabetes currently affects more than 10 percent of the adult U.S. population — but it doesn’t have to be that way, a local health educator says.
Scientific research has found that Type II diabetes, which accounts for 90 to 95 percent of all diabetes diagnoses, is often preventable, according to Eileen DeLeeuw, a nationally-certified diabetes educator in Tooele.
To raise awareness of effective preventative measures, doctors and health educators across the nation have participated in the Diabetes Alert this month.
A Tooele City business, Birch Family Pharmacy, has scheduled two free screening events in the coming weeks in recognition of the event. While most official Diabetes Alert events took place on Tuesday, Birch decided to host local events on April 2 and 9 to avoid conflicts with local schools’ spring break, DeLeeuw said.
DeLeeuw — who was diagnosed with diabetes nearly 50 years ago, at age 9 — has Type I diabetes, an autoimmune disorder that attacks and destroys the cells that produce insulin. Scientists are still unsure whether Type I can be prevented, DeLeeuw said.
Insulin is a protein responsible for regulating the absorption and release of sugar in the human body.
But Type II diabetes, the more common diagnosis, is known to be preventable. Type II is caused by insulin resistance, which results from a combination of various risk factors, including age, genetic propensity, and weight, DeLeeuw said.
According to 2012 figures from the Tooele County Health Department, roughly 9 percent of Tooele County adults have diabetes.
In general, DeLeeuw explained, most adults develop some degree of insulin resistance as they age. Weight becomes a contributing factor because body fat requires additional insulin to maintain itself. If the body’s total need for insulin exceeds the body’s capacity to produce it, then that individual may develop Type II diabetes.
If untreated, Type II diabetes can lead to nerve and eye damage, kidney failure, heart attack and stroke.
The key to prevention, DeLeeuw said, is physical activity. Just 30 minutes of exercise five days a week — or any combination of daily exercise totaling 150 minutes per week — is known to significantly decrease an individual’s risk of developing diabetes. In families with numerous risk factors and a long-running history of diabetes, physical activity may delay the onset of the disease.
Additionally, DeLeeuw noted most people could substantially reduce their risk if they lost just 5 to 7 percent of their body weight.
DeLeeuw said she understands the difficulty of weight loss — she herself struggled for years to learn to control her weight. But through careful practice, she said she has learned to manage her health, and today remains free of common diabetes-related complications.
“When I was diagnosed, I was told that I was never going to have children, never going to travel — basically that I was going to slowly fall apart and die,” DeLeeuw said. “I’ve enjoyed living my life proving them wrong.”
Managing — and preventing — diabetes does not require perfection, but rather day-to-day improvement, she said. Physical activity can be worked into a daily schedule gradually, over time. For those who can’t find time in their routine to exercise, DeLeeuw advised setting goals that would allow them to find time in the future.
“If I look back at my life, there area times when I couldn’t figure out when to exercise,” she said. But she said she would ask herself, “Will I somehow have time to deal with the complications later?”
“You don’t have to be perfect,” she said. “You just have to be a little better.”
Tooele County does have many local diabetes- and exercise-related resources available, DeLeeuw said, but many of them remain underutilized. Multiple local organizations offer diabetes classes, and there are local support groups for individuals and families with diabetes. A listing of resources is available at LiveFitTC.org.
But the first step, DeLeeuw said, is diagnosis. According to the Centers for Disease Control, roughly 7 million Americans currently live with undiagnosed diabetes. While an official diagnosis must come from a physician, Birch Family Pharmacy has set up screening events to help locals identify and address their own level of risk.
Representatives from the pharmacy will hold a free screening fair on April 2 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Tooele Senior Citizens Center, 59 E. Vine, Tooele, and on April 9 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Grantsville Senior Citizens Center, 120 S. Center St., Grantsville.
Though those events are geared specifically to seniors, DeLeeuw said anyone who would like to attend may call Birch Family Pharmacy at 435-882-7775 for more information.