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Shining a Light on Diabetes

January 21, 2014

Nearly one in 10 Georgians lives with diabetes, and thousands more are at risk of developing the disease. While many need to learn how to live well with the disease, for others, it may be entirely preventable. Health advocates discussed the impact of diabetes on Georgia on Jan. 15, gathering at the State Capitol for Georgia Diabetes Awareness Day.

DPH Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., gathered with health advocates at the State Capitol to highlight diabetes.

Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., joined Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and others to emphasize the importance of addressing diabetes in the state.

“It is my hope that every Georgian - child, teen, parent, adult, family, senior, grandparent - learns and understands the facts about diabetes and their importance,” Fitzgerald said. “Together, I know we can help create a generation free of diabetes and its life-threatening complications.”

There are two major types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t make insulin to regulate levels of sugar, or glucose, in the blood. This type appears to be caused by genetic and environmental factors. Type 2 diabetes happens when the body becomes resistant to insulin, and is linked to poor diet, lack of physical activity and overweight. Though not everyone with diabetes is overweight – for example, the actor Tom Hanks or the Atlanta Hawks' Dominique Wilkins -- in Georgia, about half of the more than 700,000 adults with diabetes are obese.

Diabetes is one of the leading causes of death and disability in the country. People with the disease are at an increased risk of further complications, such as heart disease, stroke, kidney failure and blindness. Along with the health risks, diabetes also takes an enormous financial toll. The total annual medical cost for diabetes in the U.S. increased by 41 percent from 2007-2012, topping $245 billion. This includes costs for hospital and emergency care, medical care, office visits and medications. In Georgia, the total yearly cost of diabetes is $5.1 billion, which includes $3.3 billion in direct medical costs and just under $2 billion in lost productivity and absence from work or school.

Diabetes is not an easy condition to manage, and people with the disease must make major changes to their lifestyles and habits to stay healthy.  In Georgia, only half of adults with diabetes have participated in any type of formal diabetes self-management education course or class to learn skills needed to successfully manage their glucose, blood pressure, cholesterol control and reduce their risk for developing diabetes-related complications. Evidence shows that diabetes self-management can result in a significant improvement in health outcomes, as well as in the reduction of diabetes-related complications and hospitalizations.

DPH’s Diabetes Prevention and Control program works to connect Georgians with diabetes to the information they need to manage their health. The program also works closely with Georgia Drive for Sight and Georgia Vision Collaborative to increase access to free vision health education, screenings and eye exams throughout the state.

Another key part of addressing diabetes in Georgia is preventing people from developing it by encouraging physical activity, proper nutrition, weight control and regular screenings from health care professionals. Programs like Georgia SHAPE are working to promote healthy behaviors in the state’s youngest citizens, hoping to reduce the burden of chronic diseases like diabetes for future generations.

 “About 95 percent of diabetes could possibly be prevented.  We need to do the right things, right now to prevent diabetes,” Fitzgerald said.

For more information about diabetes and preventing and controlling the disease, visit DPH’s website.