Angela Mickalide, Ph.D., MCHES
Vice President, Programs and Education, The American College of Preventive Medicine
Diabetes is preventable. However, as of 2016, 26.8 million Americans were estimated to have been diagnosed with diabetes, and an additional 7.3 million may have diabetes but are unaware of it. This means that nearly 10 percent of the entire United States population has diabetes, which has far-reaching consequences. Diabetes-related treatment costs are a major contributor to healthcare spending, and for individuals with diabetes, the disease has a major impact on their well-being and quality of life.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease that affects the function of insulin, a hormone that tells your body when to absorb sugar from your bloodstream.
In Type 1 diabetes, which is caused by genetic and environmental factors, your body produces insufficient insulin.
In Type 2 diabetes, your body over time becomes resistant to insulin and loses its ability to manage excess sugar. The development of Type 2 diabetes is closely tied to diet, exercise, and body weight. Because of this, it can be prevented by eating a healthy diet, getting enough exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight.
Environment affects health
Preventing diabetes isn’t just about healthy lifestyle choices. Our environment has a major impact on our health. Access to safe places to exercise like parks and gyms, grocery stores with fresh produce, and restaurants offering healthy menu options can empower behaviors that prevent diabetes. Minority communities in particular face a significantly greater risk of developing diabetes, both due to more limited access to healthy food options and the direct negative impacts of racism on health. In one study, black women facing the highest perceived experience of racism had over a 30 percent higher risk of developing diabetes.
Why prevent diabetes?
Taking steps to prevent diabetes is critical for our healthcare future. Annually, diabetes-related health expenses exceed $230 billion of direct medical costs and an additional $90 billion in related economic costs. Preventing diabetes is about more than the money saved. Building healthier environments can also reduce racial and economic disparities in healthcare.
Ultimately, health is a goal itself. Patients undergoing treatment for diabetes or suffering from diabetes-related complications commonly report reduced quality of life – by preventing diabetes and other diseases, we can help ourselves and our communities live fuller, happier, and healthier lives.
How to prevent diabetes
Be kind to your body – eat a healthy diet with plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, and limit extra sugar. Try to find the time to exercise each day, whether going to the gym, playing a sport, going for a walk, or some other form of physical activity that you enjoy. If you think you may be at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, see your doctor to get tested and develop a prevention plan that works for you.
But also, pay attention to your community. Do you have sidewalks or parks and other places to be active? Is there a grocery store nearby stocked with fresh produce? Do your local schools have healthy cafeteria options for your children? While it may seem overwhelming to make policy changes at a national level, you can work with local governments, school boards, and other members of your community to advocate for changes that can help make you, your family, and your neighborhood a healthier place to live.
ACPM and diabetes prevention
At the American College of Preventive Medicine (ACPM), through funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we’re proud to be working with the American Medical Association and the Black Women’s Health Imperative to support innovative community-based diabetes prevention programs focused on improving pre-diabetes preventive care for Black and Latina women who face an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. We’re also working with partners across the healthcare space to improve the training of diabetes prevention coaches and physicians, and continue to advocate for health equity in all policies, because prevention extends well outside the walls of the doctor’s office.