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Are You at Risk?

And What Can You Do about It?

By David Mendosa

Last Update: July 28, 2001

Are you at risk for diabetes? Do you already have it but don't know it? According to official data published by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, a part of the National Institutes of Health, about 16 million Americans have diabetes—and about one-third of them don't know it. The government says that 15.7 million people—5.9 percent of the population—have diabetes, of whom 10.3 million have been diagnosed and 5.4 million haven't been diagnosed yet.

Diabetes isn’t contagious.

Now, however, about 18 million American have been diagnosed with the disease, based on the new study of this country's diabetes epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that is the subject of the feature article here. That study shows that the prevalence of diabetes rose for 4.9 percent in 1990 to 6.5 percent in 1998. Using that rate for the country's current population, which according to the Bureau of the Census is nearing 276 million, gives the much larger prevalence figure.

While the causes of diabetes are unknown, it's clear that it's not contagious. You don't "catch" it from someone else. But scientists think that both genes and viruses are involved with type 1 diabetes.

But the risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes are well known. People who have close relatives with type 2 diabetes are much more likely to get it themselves. About 80 percent of the people with type 2 diabetes are overweight. People who are more than 40 and particularly those older than 60 are much more at risk of diabetes. High blood pressure and high cholesterol are additional risk factors.

People who are of Hispanic, African American, or Native American descent are all at greater risk of developing diabetes. The rates of type 2 diabetes among Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans are 110 to 120 percent higher than among non-Hispanics, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Diabetes rates among African Americans are 60 percent higher. Native Americans have the highest rates of diabetes of any group in the world. Half of the Pima Indians living in the United States have diabetes—but not those living in Mexico, because they have a different diet.

If you fall into any of these categories, you are among those at risk of having diabetes. The American Diabetes Association recently recommended that everyone who is 45 or older be tested for diabetes every three years. But if you have any of these risk factors, the ADA says you should be tested every year. 

This is an updated version for NutriNews of an article I wrote originally for The Dallas Morning News, December 7, 1998.

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