HAZARD — November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, and this is an especially important time for awareness in Eastern Kentucky as this region has one of the highest instances of diabetes in the nation.
As a state, Kentucky remains in the top 10 states in instances of diabetes, and in 2011 a paper published by the Centers for Disease Control named 15 states (including Kentucky) that had been declared part of the “diabetes belt.” The reasoning is that they have the highest numbers of people suffering from the disease in the country.
Made up of primarily southern states, the diabetes belt is a collection of contiguous states with high numbers of counties where 11 percent of the population over 20 years old have been diagnosed with diabetes. This is compared to only around eight percent nationally.
These high rates of Type 2 diabetes, formerly known as adult-onset diabetes, are related to a number of environmental and hereditary factors, including a number of long standing traditions that can be hard to break. Type 2 diabetes can be directly related to lifestyle, including diet, exercise, and stress level.
The other part of diabetes is related to genealogy and if it has been prevalent through a long line of family. As diabetes is becoming more common in the area, the likelihood that children will also develop the disease later in life is greater. Studies are currently being conducted in Kentucky looking at the links between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes in families.
A Bloomberg Businessweek article about the diabetes belt stated that the counties most harshly affected by diabetes tend to be areas with a relatively high number of African Americans, high rates of obesity, and a large number of people living a sedentary lifestyle. While diabetes can run in families, it can be somewhat prevented by weight control and exercise.
Several studies have shown that there is a high rate of people living shorter lifespans and having more heart and breathing problems in these areas which show a general lack of health.
A 2005 study of Kentuckians and the overall prevalence of diabetes showed that more than two-thirds of Kentucky was considered overweight or obese, and one-third indicated that they had not done any physical activity in the last month. These statistics put people falling within this demographic at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes if they do not already have it.
Some areas, including Hazard and Perry County, are trying to fight back by hosting diabetes awareness groups and classes. The Diabetic Support Group of Perry County meets to address some of the issues surrounding diabetes and to educate and inform about all of the resources available.
Susan Hull, a nurse practitioner and certified diabetes educator here in Hazard, said that she seen the number of people in the region with diabetes go up, but the most surprising is the number of children present with Type 2 diabetes. While Type 1 diabetes has always been more common among children and is considered an autoimmune disease and cannot be prevented, Type 2 diabetes is caused by external forces that traditionally have not been a problem with children.
“I really hadn’t seen any cases when I first started of Type 2 (in children), we had always called it adult-onset diabetes,” said Hull. “There are a lot of kids that don’t get out.”
This lack of activity and unhealthy food choices can be blamed on a number of factors, including the increase in the number of children living a more sedentary lifestyle, as well as low-income families consuming fast food because it can be more economical and convenient than cooking.
“Activity is a big thing,” Hull said, but added that in her classes and support groups one of the biggest things people find difficult is learning to read food labels and cook in a healthy way.
One resource that she points out for this is the American Diabetes Association website. Their website offers recipes, a way to track your blood sugar, and articles and resources for health and wellness information focused on helping diabetics.
Another resource is Hull, who volunteers one day a week at the Little Flower Clinic in Hazard helping diabetics become educated on managing their illness. The Diabetic Support Group also helps to emphasize some of the health issues that diabetics may not be aware could be effecting their blood sugar such as proper dental hygiene.
Barbara Baird, also with the diabetic support group, met with Hazard Mayor Nan Gorman in her office last week where she proclaimed November as Diabetes Awareness and Prevention Month in the city of Hazard.