Recent Op-Eds

November is American Diabetes Month. Throughout November I hope we can all work together to raise awareness and provide Americans with an opportunity to talk about ways to fight this chronic disease.

Currently, about 20.8 million Americans, or seven percent of the U.S. population, have diabetes. Of these individuals about 6.2 million do not know they have the disease. An estimated 36,000 South Dakotans over the age of 18 were diagnosed with type 1 or type 2 diabetes in 2004.

Diabetes is a chronic disease marked by high levels of blood glucose resulting from defects in a body's insulin production. If not addressed, diabetes can lead to serious health complications and in some cases premature death. Although there is no current cure for diabetes, individuals can take steps to control the disease and lower the risk of complications. Additionally, those at risk for developing diabetes can take actions and make lifestyle choices to delay or prevent its onset.

Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile-onset diabetes, accounts for about five to ten percent of all diagnosed cases. Although type 1 diabetes can occur at any age, it usually starts in people younger than 30. Symptoms are usually severe and occur rapidly.

Type 2 diabetes accounts for approximately 90 to 95 percent of diabetes cases and usually occurs gradually. Family history and genetics play a large role in type 2 diabetes, and low activity level, excess body weight, and poor diet can significantly increase an individual's risk for type 2 diabetes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Indians and other minorities are more likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic whites. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases reports that about 15.1 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives aged 20 years or older and receiving care from the Indian Health Service have been diagnosed with diabetes.

Seniors entering the Medicare program are eligible for a one-time "Welcome to Medicare" physical to thoroughly review their health as well as education and counseling about preventative health services. Additionally, Medicare provides a free diabetes screening up to two times per year to individuals 65 or older showing signs or risk factors for diabetes.

If you believe you are at risk for developing diabetes, I would encourage you to take a diabetes risk test and make healthy choices like eating right and staying active. Also take this opportunity to speak with a friend or a relative about their risk for developing this chronic disease. To learn more you can contact the South Dakota Department of Health's Diabetes Prevention and Control Program ( or 800-738-2301) or the American Diabetes Association ( or (800) -DIABETES).

Together, through awareness, education, and preventative measures such as a healthy lifestyle, we can fight diabetes and improve the lives of the 20.8 million people affected by it.