Public health officials are concerned—and admittedly perplexed—by the worldwide epidemic of diabetes. Characterized by high blood sugar levels, diabetes is the fastest growing disease in America.
“One can point to the striking association between obesity and diabetes,” says David Harlan, M.D., co-director of the Diabetes Center of Excellence at UMass Memorial Health Care. “The numbers are shocking: From 1995 to 2010, there has been an 80 percent increase in the number of obese Americans as classified by the national Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, or BRFSS*.”
Too much food and too little activity are major players, yet puzzling questions remain: “Are we really eating that much more, or exercising that much less, than we did in 1995?” Dr. Harlan wonders. “Why does diabetes strike some people who are slightly overweight and not others who grow quite obese? And why the dramatic increase in type 1 diabetes, which typically strikes younger, lean individuals?”
Researchers theorize that viruses, low vitamin D, or pollutants can cause diabetes, but there’s no solid evidence yet.
One promising message is loud and clear: Being active (and walking counts!) for 30 minutes on most days and losing extra weight dramatically lowers diabetes risk. “Stay lean and physically active,” urges the expert. “Every American can help stem the tide until we discover the therapies we all desire to prevent and cure diabetes, and the complications and deaths that too often accompany it.”
The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), established in 1984 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is the largest telephone health survey in the world.
Each year, scientists collect health data from more than 350,000 adults from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam. In fact for many states, the BRFSS is the only source of timely and accurate data on health-related behaviors.
“For example, investigators ask participants their height and weight and then apply a simple formula to determine whether the respondent is obese,” explains Dr. Harlan. “In 1995, 15.3 percent of Americans were classified as obese—a fraction that grew to 27.6 percent by 2010.”
Click here to view BRFSS health data from your state.