Diabetes statistics raise lifestyle questions about area counties

By Matt Daray

Some statistics may lead several southern Illinois counties to rethink their diets.

The Illinois Department of Public Health worked with the American Diabetes Association March 26 with Diabetes Alert Day to raise awareness about the disease, which exists in three types and affects nearly 10 percent of Illinois adults on. The most widespread diabetes cases exist in Alexander, Pulaski and Williamson counties, according to the two organizations’ statistics, and community officials weighed in on why these areas might have such high rates and how to prevent the state increase.

Sabrina Miller, the university’s health department media contact, said in an email that data shows the high rate is probably linked to the state’s high obesity rate.

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“Consistent with the national trend, the diabetes trend in Illinois has been increasing since 1995 when the department began collecting prevalence data,” she said. “The increase may be linked to the rising trend of obesity in Illinois adults. Obesity in Illinois has risen from 16.7 percent of adults … to 28.7 percent in 2010.”

While it is unclear why diabetes is affecting the Alexander, Pulaski, and Williamson Counties more than other areas in the state, a university staff member said the problem might be linked to one’s diet.

Jeremy Davis, an assistant professor in animal science food and nutrition, said he thinks the high diabetes rates might stem from the high obesity rate.

“It’s really probably tightly related to the fact that a majority of the state is becoming overweight, … and that has a real tight correlation between obesity and diabetes,” he said.

Davis said diabetes and obesity can be prevented by having a healthy diet as well as and regular exercise. Although an individual might be more prone to developing diabetes because of family history, he said, it doesn’t mean they will get it. However, Davis said he or she must be more careful than the average person.

The state could assist with diabetes prevention in some ways, he said, but the state isn’t pursuing prevention methods, given Illinois’ current budget problems.

Education on diabetes’ dangers and food stamp programs giving more benefits for buying healthy foods could be ways to control the issue, he said.

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Diabetes is a group of diseases characterized by high blood glucose levels that result from defects in the body’s ability to produce and/or use insulin, according to the American Diabetes Association website. There are three main types, but Type 1 and Type 2 are the most common forms, and about 90 percent of all diabetes cases are Type 2. The third type is gestational and affects only pregnant women.

Type 1 is an autoimmune disorder where the pancreas produces very little or no insulin. People who develop Type 1 diabetes are usually under the age of 20, according to the website.

People who develop Type 1 diabetes will have the disease for life, because the pancreas cells that produce insulin are destroyed, and they will need treatment in the form of insulin shots or an insulin pump.

Type 2 diabetes is normally found in people who are overweight as they age. Although it is sometimes called adult-onset diabetes, more children and young adultsin countries such as the U.S. are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes because they are not engaging in enough physical activity.

While diet can be an issue, Davis said a correlation could lie between poverty and diabetes rates.

According to information provided by the Illinois Poverty Report, Southern Illinois houses six of the 10 counties with the state’s highest poverty rates are in southern Illinois; Jackson, Saline, Hardin and Union Counties as well as Alexander and Pulaski, two of the three counties with the highest diabetes rates.

“There’s not really a specific research that identifies the specific reasons,” he said. “There’s a lot of hypotheses out there in terms of the relationship, but it does seem to be that in those places … there’s either a lack of healthy food choices or lack of awareness about what healthy foods are.”

Miller said she also thinks poverty levels in the southern Illinois counties, among other factors, are responsible for the diabetes rate.

“The short answer is that according to demographic data, populations in the southernmost portion of the state have characteristics consistent with populations that have a higher prevalence of diabetes,” she said. “For example, income less than $20,000, less than a college degree and most adults are over the age of 50.”

However, according to an Alexander county school official the rates are not the grade schools’ fault.

Rose Gayle Pickett, Cairo Elementary School principal, said the school provides healthy meals and exercise to all students.

Pickett said the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable grant offers schools money so they can provide fruits and vegetables twice a week and promote a healthy diet.

Kids also receive at least 15 minutes of recess per day, Pickett said, and students have gym once or twice a week depending on their grade level.

While officials speculated only diabetes, one student with the disease said it has been a hassle for him since he was diagnosed.

Elijah Roberts, a senior from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., studying economics, said having Type 1 diabetes has been a rollercoaster experience.

He said he acquired diabetes in seventh grade and didn’t know he had it until it was almost too late.

He said he went into a diabetic coma after constantly being sick, and doctors told him he would have died if he didn’t make it to the hospital that day.

“It always reminds me that when I see people not taking care of the diabetes that I’m a survivor, and living with it has shown me that you have to definitely change the way you go about doing things,” he said.

Roberts said while his daily life hasn’t changed much, he has to constantly monitor his insulin levels. He said he uses a pump to receive concentrated insulin doses every hour, but he might receive too little or too much insulin if he does not monitor what he is doing and eating.

People need to watch what they do if they don’t want to also end up with getting diabetes, Roberts said.

“Exercise is very important for just body processes, and just being aware of what you are doing at all times is going to help those who don’t have diabetes to avoid it, going to help those with diabetes to maintain it with better respect towards their bodies,” he said.

Matt Daray can be reached at [email protected] or 536-3311 ext. 254.

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