These sharp increases in diabetes have been associated with rapidly rising rates of obesity, diets heavy is fats and sugars and a decrease in exercise and physical activity. The most rapid increases in diabetes have been in the South. Georgia had the nation’s third highest increase, 145 percent, in the five-year period. The two higher states were Oklahoma at 226 percent and Kentucky, 158 percent.
According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, based on 2010 data, all West Georgia counties show similarly high diabetes rates, above state and national averages.
In Carroll County, 12.7 percent of adults have diabetes. Haralson County has a 10.4 percent incidence rate; Heard County, 9.9 percent; Douglas, 10.3 percent; and Paulding, 10.9 percents.
These local rates are higher than the Georgia average of 9.8 percent and the national rate of 8.3 percent. The CDC report on diabetes was part of its weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report released last week. The data was gathered from the Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System, an annual phone survey of adults age 18 and over.
“This is really a very staggering statistic,” said Dr. Jack E. Birge, a Carrollton physician.
“It’s a marked change in an illness that had been stable for a long time.”
Birge called the problem one with national consequences and hopefully one which research can help guide people toward ways of prevention.
“As a physician, it puts us in a position of needing to find an early diagnosis,” he said. “It you get at it early, you’re less likely to have it develop to more dangerous stages with organ dysfunction because it targets the brain and heart. Heart attacks, kidney failure and strokes are commonly associated with diabetes.”
Birge said screening for diabetes is a simple blood test that is available in many places.
“Just because your blood sugar might be slightly elevated doesn’t necessarily mean you have diabetes,” he said. “But it is important to go to some medical source for additional tests.”
He said his office uses a level of 126 to signal a need for further testing.
Birge said the gold standard of diabetes diagnosis is the glucose tolerance test.
“When a persons eats a meal, the blood sugar should return to normal levels in about two hours,” he said. “If after one hour, the level is still higher than 160, it’s suspicious.”
Birge praised the efforts of Tanner Health System and its wellness program for finding many people with diabetes.
For residents who are diagnosed with diabetes, Tanner Health System provides an education program through Tanner Health Source that is certified by the American Diabetes Association. Tanner’s program, available by physician referral, features one-on-one education with a certified diabetes educator, nutrition consultations with a registered dietitian and a five-hour diabetes self-management class.
Under its recently established community health division, Tanner also plans to use a $1.22 million federal grant the health system received last month to expand its efforts to impact diabetes rates in Carroll, Haralson and Heard counties.
“We are in the development phase of multiple initiatives to address chronic health concerns, such as diabetes, in our community,” said Denise Taylor, senior vice president and chief community health strategy and brand officer for Tanner.
The grant was awarded through the CDC’s Community Transformation Grant Small Communities program. The funds will supplement Tanner’s already robust, mission-driven community health strategies, helping Tanner’s efforts to reduce rates of obesity, improve nutritional awareness and increase physical activity — all of which can reduce rates of diabetes in the region.
Tanner was the only organization in Georgia to receive one of the grants, and one of only eight hospital systems in the entire country. A total of 40 grants were awarded to a variety of non-profit organizations nationally.
Diabetes is a condition in which sufficient amounts of insulin are either not produced, or the body is unable to use the insulin that is produced. For glucose to be able to move into the cells of the body, the hormone insulin must be present. Insulin is produced in the pancreas and, normally, is readily available to move glucose into the cells. However, in people who have diabetes, either the pancreas produces too little or no insulin, or certain cells in the body do not respond to the insulin that is produced. This causes a buildup of glucose in the blood, which passes into the urine where it is eventually eliminated, leaving the body without its main source of fuel.
There are three main types of diabetes:
• Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the cells that produce insulin, resulting in either no insulin or a low amount of insulin. People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin daily in order to live.
Birge noted that Type 1 diabetes is a genetic disorder that usually starts in childhood and is an entirely different disease from Type 2 diabetes which is the one on the increase.
• Type 2 diabetes is a result of the body’s inability to make enough, or to properly use, insulin. Type 2 diabetes may be controlled with diet, exercise and weight loss, or may require oral or injected medication and/or insulin injections. Type 2 diabetes accounts for about 90-95 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. It is associated with older age, obesity, family history, physical inactivity and race/ethnicity.
• Gestational diabetes is a condition in which the glucose level is elevated and other diabetic symptoms appear during pregnancy in a woman who has not previously been diagnosed with diabetes. In many cases, all diabetic symptoms disappear following delivery.
Birge said Type 2 diabetes is often associated with metabolic syndrome, a condition marked by glucose intolerance, obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Type 2 diabetes is commonly preceded by pre-diabetes. In pre-diabetes, blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be defined as diabetes. However, many people with pre-diabetes develop type 2 diabetes within 10 years, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Pre-diabetes also increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
With modest weight loss and moderate physical activity, people with pre-diabetes can often delay or prevent type 2 diabetes.
Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to a number of physical complications, including blindness, amputation of toes or feet, kidney disease, heart disease, nerve problems and more.