WASHINGTON – A startling increase in diabetes cases in Maryland should serve as a “wake-up call” to younger Marylanders that they need to change unhealthy habits now, state health officials said.
Obesity and unhealthy lifestyles contributed to a 70 percent increase in diabetes cases among individuals 30-39 years old across the country, according to health experts. Experts are most troubled by the increase in those diabetes cases among adults, also called Type II diabetes.
Diabetes cases overall rose by more than 30 percent in the United States from 1990-98, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and by more than 35 percent in Maryland.
Earl Schurman of Maryland Division of Diabetes Control called the increase in Type II cases “very disconcerting.” In 1997, diabetes cost the state about $2.7 billion and the state now faces the possibility of spending even more money now on an ailment that could be prevented by proper diet and exercise.
“It is going to create a huge overload on the health-care system,” said Schurman.
In 1997, more than 210,000 adults in Maryland were diagnosed with diabetes, about 5.5 percent of the population, according to CDC statistics.
The CDC study also reported an apparent link between the prevalence of diabetes and the number of obese people in a given area. Health officials blame some of the increase on lifestyle changes over the past few years.
“I think clearly this is a mandate to take a look at the correlation,” between lifestyle and diabetes, Schurman said.
Day-to-day activities just aren’t as physical anymore said Mary Kay Sones, health communication specialist for the CDC.
“We can do things on-line now that we weren’t able to do before,” said Sones, noting that people can even avoid the light exertion of pushing a shopping cart by buying their groceries on-line.
Another contributing factor is that many school lunches are high in fat, Schurman said.
Physicians and health-care practitioners expect to see the most common form of diabetes, Type II, in individuals past age 40. Diabetes often leads to additional complications such as heart disease and non-healing leg or foot ulcers.
Health-care officials say that all they can do is expand their teaching efforts and hope the message kicks in. Maryland officials expect to begin focusing on the benefits of proper diet and exercise as well as the correlation between obesity and diabetes for all age groups in the future.
“We’re kind of being told by CDC to expand our focus,” Schurman said.
Even though they said the CDC report will have the benefit of spurring renewed action against diabetes, officials indicated the study had some faults.
“It could be a situation where, in the past, the numbers may have been underreported,” said Marty Schaefer of the American Diabetes Association Maryland chapter.
Another reason for Maryland’s relatively high increase may be the fact that the state has a disproportionately higher number of African-Americans than rest of the country, Schurman said. African-Americans, who tend to be more predisposed to diabetes, make up 25 percent of Maryland’s population compared to about 13 percent of the U.S. population.
On the other hand, both the authors of the study and some officials believe the numbers could actually be higher.
The survey, published in the September, was based on phone interviews. But officials note that individuals without telephones tend to be of low socioeconomic status, which is also mostly associated with diabetes and obesity.
Ten states were not included in the study because of insufficient data.
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