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A slow-moving health disaster that’s unfolding nationwide is poised to hit Florida particularly hard. By 2030, nearly one in five Floridians could have diabetes, a new projection shows, which would give it the second-highest rate in the country.
The main culprit: rising rates of obesity, says Leslie Hall, director of the AdventHealth Diabetes Institute and a certified diabetes educator. More than two out of three Americans are overweight or obese.
The major causes of obesity are clear, says Hall.
“Look at the underlying way we approach food and nutrition in the United States,” she says. “People are busy, they work a lot of hours and they move away from plant-based, healthier foods and toward high-fat and calorie-dense fast foods.”
Fast food, for example, is quick and easy. But it takes a bit of time to prepare delicious and healthy meals, like slow-roasted Brussels sprouts. Changing the food you eat every day isn’t easy, Hall says.
“You have to tune into what motivates people, remove their barriers to success and set realistic goals,” she says.
Doing that takes a team that includes doctors, nurses, registered dietitians, weight management experts, exercise specialists and mental health specialists. Our multidisciplinary approach is one of the reasons we recently earned the number 12 ranking in the nation for diabetes and endocrinology care from U.S. News & World Report.
Education about how to make a healthy lifestyle fit your life is the centerpiece of our whole-person approach to diabetes. Here’s what we want our patients to know — ideally before diabetes enters their life.
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes can be hard to understand. It’s not an infection like the cold or flu, where there’s a crystal-clear line between having the sickness and getting better.
Instead, it’s a spectrum, more like our weight. As our weight increases, our health problems slowly add up over time.
Except for diabetes we’re measuring blood sugar, not pounds. Diabetes is a label we’ve come up with when a person’s blood sugar rises above 6.5%. When it rises above 8%, it means their diabetes is uncontrolled.
Our blood sugar levels can rise slowly. When it hits 5.7%, we have what’s called “prediabetes.” One in three American adults have this condition, which is a warning sign that diabetes could be in your future.
(The diabetes we’ve been describing is called “Type 2.” To learn more about the different types of diabetes, check out our blog post on the “diabetes spectrum.”)
But nine in 10 people with prediabetes don’t even know it. This is one reason diabetes is so dangerous. The disease often waits to cause major problems until it’s too late to reverse.
Why Preventing and Controlling Diabetes Matters
Especially to someone who doesn’t have it, diabetes might not seem like a serious illness. But high blood sugar can damage blood vessels, nerves and organs throughout your whole body, potentially causing serious problems.
To name only one, adults with diabetes are nearly twice as likely to die from heart disease or stroke as people without diabetes. Avoiding diabetes while you’re young or in middle age is especially important. As our recent blog post explains, having diabetes when you’re under 40 is particularly dangerous for your heart and brain.
People with the following risk factors are likelier to have diabetes:
- Being overweight. Excess fat can make it harder for the body to control blood sugar.
- Eating unhealthy food. Red meat and soft drinks in particular can raise your diabetes risk.
- Not being active. Inactivity can lead to weight gain and get in the way of blood sugar control.
- Age. Most people with diabetes are 45 or older, but you can get the disease at any age.
- Race. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, African-Americans, Hispanics and some others are more likely to get diabetes.
Helping You Regain Control
Losing weight is hard, and simply telling someone to eat a low-calorie diet doesn’t work. We use a technique called motivational interviewing, meaning we help you figure out what matters to you. In other words, your goals are our goals.
Many patients are referred to our office by a doctor. But anyone can take advantage of our weight management programs, like New Day, New Weigh. Setting and achieving small, short-term goals can often pave the way for big change over time.
On the other hand, setting overly ambitious goals, as many often do, sets a person up for failure, Hall says.
Our team approach is a major part of what makes us successful. It allows us to focus on making an individualized plan. If getting more active is a major goal, an exercise specialist can give you real-world ways to fit it in your life.
“If your focus is on nutrition we can give you more time one-on-one with a dietitian,” Hall says. (To get a taste of what healthy and delicious looks like, check out our featured recipes.)
Even if you already have diabetes, medication and lifestyle changes are still critical. Even losing 10 or 15 pounds can help.
“The earlier you get your diabetes under control, the lower your risk of developing complications,” Hall says. “If you wait for 10 years to get it under control, a lot of damage has already been done.”
Whether you or a loved one are worried about developing diabetes or already have it, this whole-person approach can put you back in the driver’s seat.
With nine Central Florida campuses, our team-based care is close to home for residents of Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties.