WASHINGTON — More and more of us are getting diabetes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are more than 29 million diabetics in the United States. That’s a big jump from the 26 million reported in 2012.
Gretchen Youssef, program manager for the MedStar Diabetes Institute, says she is seeing a steady increase of local patients from one year to the next.
She says most are African Americans, and notes that they have about twice the rate of diabetes as non-Hispanic whites.
Also, Youssef says she sees diabetes hitting younger people. While the disease is rampant among the senior set, more and more of their kids and grandkids are being diagnosed.
“It used to be 20 years ago, the people coming into our office would be 40 or over when they would be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes,” says Youssef. “Now, we are seeing it at a much younger age, and it is probably related to the rate of obesity and inactivity.”
She says doctors are doing a better job diagnosing the disease, but too many people are waiting too long to get screened.
Women — who can develop diabetes as a complication of pregnancy — may slack off on seeing a general practitioner once their children are born. As for men, Youssef says they “tend not to go to health care until there is a significant problem.”
Signs of trouble include increased thirst and urination and a higher rate of infections. But some people show no symptoms in the early stages of the disease, and that is why it is especially important for anyone with a family history to get screened at regular intervals.
The problem is, many people remember seeing their parents or grandparents battle the disease in another era, when treatments were not as good as they are today. So local governments and health care providers have launched outreach programs to large at-risk communities.
These days, there are prevention and diabetes education programs at recreation centers and churches. The MedStar Diabetes Institute even provides screenings and information at selected barbershops in D.C. as part of its “Hair, Heart and Health” initiative.
At most of these programs, the focus is on promoting healthy lifestyles. Youssef says a 5 to 7 percent weight loss can make a huge difference, and increasing activity can help keep diabetes at bay.