Diabetes cases are continuing to rise in the U.S. and according to the World Health Organization, the disease is projected to be the seventh leading cause of death by 2030.
“I’m not exactly sure why but there’s a region of the United States where there’s an increased incidence of diabetes,” says Dr. Jennifer Holst, an endocrinologist with the Allegheny Health Network, focused on the treatment of disease.
Western Pennsylvania is part of this region, extending up from the South, known as the “diabetes belt.” However, the nationwide increase of diabetes diagnoses in western Pennsylvania is 3 percent higher than the national average, according to Julie Heverly, executive director for the Western PA American Diabetes Association.
That higher-than-average rate is not good, but at least has more people thinking about the disease, Heverly said.
“Doctors and the general public are more aware of diabetes, so they’re taking steps to see if more people have diabetes,” Heverly said.
People with undiagnosed diabetes face a number of health risks, from the loss of vision to loss of limbs.
In addition to health risks, diabetes can take a financial toll on patients and businesses. According to the American Diabetes Association, total medical costs, lost work and wages are estimated at $245 billion. Costs for people with the disease are twice as high as those without.
Some employers, through company health plans, offer lifestyle interventions to help people who aren’t diabetic.
According to Gretchen North, associate vice president of Healthy Living at the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh, these programs can make a big difference.
“They have the ability to delay or reduce the onset of diabetes by 50 to 70 percent,” she said.
While there is no cure for diabetes, maintaining a healthy diet and exercising can go a long way in managing the disease.
Health Care coverage on 90.5 WESA is made possible in part by a grant from the Jewish Healthcare Foundation.