Statistically speaking, there are more people in the United States dealing with diabetes than in previous generations.
According a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late last year, the number of diagnosed diabetes cases increased by 50 percent or more in 42 states over a span of 15 years — and even by 100 percent in 18 states.
That’s what prompted Rotarian Johnathan Wagner to speak about the prevalence of diabetes and how it can be prevented to members of the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club Thursday.
“I’m not a nurse; I’m not a health care expert,” Wagner said. “But I want to talk to you today about one of the fastest-growing diseases in the United States, which is diabetes.”
Wagner, who works for a company called Choose To Be Healthy that sells nutritional supplements, said even supplements can’t make up for unhealthy habits that can lead to Type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes is a “condition in which the body does not properly process food for use as energy,” according to the CDC. A person’s body makes a hormone called insulin to help process sugar, or glucose, from the food we eat. The bodies of people with diabetes don’t produce enough insulin or cannot use insulin well enough to process sugar.
There are two types of diabetes, according to the CDC — Type 1 and Type 2.
Type 1 can result from a variety of “autoimmune, genetic and environmental factors.”
Type 2 can also be caused by “genetic factors,” but it is also often caused by things like obesity, physical inactivity and having had gestational diabetes during pregnancy.
Wagner said he believes healthy eating can prevent a lot of people from developing diabetes because it can take factors like obesity out of the equation. He added one of the biggest hurdles people have to eating healthy is thinking they need to be buying expensive food. He said there are ways to improve a family’s diet on a budget.
“I hear a lot of folks saying eating healthy is expensive,” Wagner said. “I really don’t agree with that.”
To illustrate his point, Wagner pulled out a shopping bag of food. He had with him a 2-pound bag of brown rice he had purchased for $1.35 at a discount store, as well as a bag of dried beans he had bought for a similar price. The rice and beans could be cooked together, and one could also add things like salad and meat to make a meal that could potentially be inexpensive for a family.
He then noted the average lifespan for a person has increased over the years because of medical advances but that the cases of diabetes have increased because of easy access to sugary, processed foods and obesity resulting from that.
“We’re living longer, but we’re a lot sicker,” Wagner said. “That doesn’t have to be. We really need to look at how we eat; everything has sugar now.”
Using his knowledge of nutritional supplements, Wagner said many people’s problems digesting sugar can be caused in part by a deficiency of a mineral called chromium. He cited the CDC’s list of problems that can result from chromium deficiency, including “impaired glucose tolerance.”
It should be “buyer beware” for anyone looking to buy a supplement to make up for what they think to be a chromium deficiency, he said.
Wagner stressed that foods like fresh vegetables and whole wheat breads are the best sources for chromium and that supplements cannot make up for unhealthy eating habits.
“Most of them are synthetics,” Wagner said “It [chromium] needs to come from a whole food.”
He said his goal for discussing such topics with the club was to let them know some cases of diabetes can be prevented and that its members, as a social service club, need to teach others how to eat healthy so they can prevent serious health problems down the road.
President Pat Fuller agreed with that statement, saying healthy eating is a learned skill the members could all have a part in teaching to those around them.
“To eat healthy does take planning,” Fuller said.
Also at the meeting, Rotarians discussed the club’s ongoing project to assist with providing clean water to communities dealing with a lack of clean water, which can lead to diseases and parasites. A trip is being planned to help people in Honduras.
Members voted to donate money to a program called On Point that teaches life skills to students in local middle and high schools in hopes of reducing the number of dropouts.
The group also made plans for its members to sign up to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity.
Fuller said she wanted the club to focus on helping people in the community by being “hands-on,” not just by donating money.