We must fight diabetes, obesity

November 5, 2008
Greenville News

South Carolina is a national leader in another unfortunate category: Our state has the second-highest rate of diabetes, a debilitating disease that is the nation's seventh-leading cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Researchers are blaming a sedentary lifestyle and the traditional Southern diet, heavy on fried and fatty foods, for South Carolina's high diabetes ranking. In fact, the highest rates of diabetes were centered in the South, which also leads the nation in rates of obesity and lack of exercise.

West Virginia topped the list of states, with 13 in 1,000 adults with diabetes. South Carolina's numbers were 11.4 cases per 1,000 residents. The lowest rate was in Minnesota, with about five cases of diabetes per 1,000 residents.

Though the problem is particularly acute in South Carolina, the obesity epidemic has driven up the rate of diabetes nationwide. In the past 10 years, the number of diabetes cases across the country almost doubled.

Obesity has long been identified as a chief cause of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Only last year a landmark study also found that overweight people also are more likely to develop cancer.

Almost 28 percent of adults are considered obese in South Carolina, according to the Trust for America's Health. About two-thirds of South Carolinians are merely overweight. Health officials blame not only our Southern diet but a sedentary lifestyle. One in four South Carolina adults doesn't exercise at all, studies have found.

Obesity can take years off a person's normal life span, but it also places an enormous burden on America's health-care system, increasing costs for everyone. The costs of obesity are substantial. State health officials say obesity-related medical costs reached more than $1 billion in South Carolina in 2003. Taxpayers directly paid for more than half of those costs, according to state officials.

Nationwide, health-care costs connected with obesity total $171 billion a year. An estimated 300,000 Americans die every year from problems related to being overweight or obese. Equally troubling is the fact that Americans have only been getting fatter over the past 20 years.

Public health officials offer strong ideas for encouraging healthier living. Much of the emphasis, they say, should be on the public schools -- because good or bad habits often are learned at an early age. Stronger PE classes are needed as well as higher nutritional standards for food served on campus.

Officials encourage employers to offer workers more places and time to work out, subsidize health club memberships and provide better insurance coverage for preventive care. Local communities, meanwhile, should increase access to healthy foods for low-income areas and improve local amenities (sidewalks, parks, bike paths, ballparks, tennis courts) conducive to physical activity.

By no means is all disease preventable. But a healthier lifestyle puts the odds in our favor.

View the full story (some sites require registration)