Diabetes is a killer that seems to enjoy its long and slow torture of those it afflicts. It is a cruel thief that steals money, time and, worst of all, dignity.
It is often all too easy to ignore until it is too late to stop it from rampaging through a victim’s body, literally eating away at internal organs and hands and feet and legs and affecting a person’s vision and even his or her thought processes. It stalks individuals, families and entire populations. Hispanics are often genetically predisposed to the disease, but nobody is safe from it. Diabetes attacks across cultures, ethnicities and races.
Nationally, some projections are even more dire. UnitedHealth Group‘s Center for Health Reform and Modernization predicts that more than half of all Americans could have diabetes or pre-diabetes by 2020.
Diabetes costs Texans $12.5 billion a year, according to the American Diabetes Association. That’s $8.1 billion in direct medical expenses and another $4.4 billion in indirect costs that include lost productivity and unemployment. Nationally, diabetes costs $174 billion — $116 billion in direct medical costs and $58 billion in indirect costs.
Bear in mind that those are current costs that are going to rise substantially if the projections prove true.
Certainly, Texas demographics work in favor of diabetes. The population overall is aging — a fact noted in several forums over the past few years. Then there is the obesity epidemic that researchers blame on the lack of exercise and poor dietary choices.
Older people and overweight people are especially prone to the disease, Klaus Madsen, vice president of programs for the institute, told the American-Statesman’s Tim Eaton.
The diabetes epidemic nationwide and in Texas has broad implications about how future populations will live and how the nation will defend itself.
Overweight recruits are showing up in increasing numbers for basic training, putting the military in full fix-it mode. Military diets are changing, and Army drill sergeants have orders to urge — in their own special ways — trainees to eat more fruit.
The biggest worry, however, is if the projections hold true, Texas and the nation will need somebody to take care of the victims of diabetes. Diabetes sufferers who end up behind bars will present an array of expensive challenges. The possibilities are as scary as they are endless.
Fortunately, an array of Texas elected officials, agency leaders and nonprofit organizations are alert and are moving on it.
Fighting diabetes by trying to prevent it will take a coordinated effort by government, the nonprofits, health professionals and, of course, citizens.
Austin City Council Member Laura Morrison is exploring ways municipal governments can fight childhood obesity with options that include more sidewalks and more parks to lure children outside. Texas Parks and Wildlife joined with conservation and sports groups and held a conference over the weekend with the same objective.
At the Legislature, Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said she has filed bills to be considered in the 2011 session that would increase physical activity and physical education for middle and high school students and require schools to report students’ physical assessments to the Texas Education Agency.
The early attempts at coordination of government and private parties in confronting the diabetes threat are heartening. Unfortunately, it’s going to take a lot more than good intentions and stacks of reports to beat this disease. The stakes are high, and the problem is real and right here.
America as a whole, let alone Texas, can’t afford to lose this battle.
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