November 14th is World Diabetes Day. It’s a day to raise awareness of the disease, its escalating rates around the world and the mechanisms by which to prevent the illness when possible.
According to Data from the 2011 National Diabetes Fact Sheet (released Jan. 26, 2011), there are 25.8 million children and adults in the United States, or 8.3% of the population, living with diabetes. I am one among them. Another 79 million people have prediabetes, and are at high risk of developing the disease. In 2007, diabetes was listed as the underlying cause on 71,382 death certificates and was listed as a contributing factor on an additional 160,022 death certificates. This means that diabetes contributed to a total of 231,404 deaths.
But statistics are only one part of the story. Diabetes requires constant attention, and there exists the heavy weight of commitment required to manage the demands of the disease. Unlike other chronic illnesses, where a physician might dole-out weekly or monthly treatments, diabetes is the responsibility of the individual. In the five years since my diagnosis, I have administered at least 9,125 insulin injections and tested my blood sugar at least 14,600 times. Diabetes is always with me, a part of my day and my life.
However burdensome, there is a seed of good fortune buried in that connection to the body. I am more aware of the impacts of external forces…of stress or fatigue…of food or thirst… I take better care of myself because I have this disease. I model for my children the ability to move forward and push past the things that make it harder to attain a goal, but not impossible.
Today, I am honored to be among 100 of the world’s best athletes living with diabetes. I race with the Women on Team Type 1 – Sanofi, and travel all over the country talking to children and adults about diabetes, exercise and nutrition. I show up at the start line of every road race armed with food and insulin, and a small, mobile apothecary allowing me to do for myself what my body should do of its own accord. I adjust my blood sugar like dialing the temperature of the thermostat – not too hot, not too cold.
The good news is that just as diabetes can be managed, it can also be prevented. Twenty years ago, virtually all children diagnosed with diabetes were diagnosed with Type 1 or “Juvenile Onset” diabetes. Today, as many as 45% of the 13,000 annual, newly-diagnosed cases of childhood diabetes are now type 2, and that staggering number is expected to rise. On the whole, the increase in incidence of type 2 diabetes has paralleled children’s increased consumption of high-calorie, low-nutritional value "fast foods" (like potato chips and French fries), and is concomitant with the rise in their sedentary, leisure time pursuits, like TV watching, computers and video games. Added fats and sugar currently make up more than 40% of youth's caloric intake, and consumption of fast foods and restaurant meals has risen by over 300% among youth since the mid-1970s. (Children with Diabetes.com (http://www.childrenwithdiabetes.com/) – Mostly deals with type 1 diabetes, but recently has been expanding to include type 2 diabetes.)
But, again, there is good news: Type 2 diabetes is largely a lifestyle disease, and is almost always a function of obesity in the very young. It could be prevented if the diets of children were monitored more closely. There's still time to turn things around. Adults – parents and lawmakers – must make the first move and insist that our kids eat properly and get adequate physical activity. Children and teens should be physically active for at least 60 minutes most or all days of the week. If you think your child is already overweight, don’t put the child on a weight loss diet without first consulting a doctor or health care professional, who can tailor a plan to meet their nutritional needs.
Over the course of my time with this disease, I have tried extraordinarily hard to prove that I can do anything so long as I manage well this body that I have been given. The sheer unabridged fear of in some way having a limitation forced on me due to diabetes has encouraged me to find my way to the hardest, most trying road races and endurance events, to run marathons and climb mountains, and to marry my talents and my self discipline so that my best can rise to the surface.