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Our Failure To Grapple With The Obesity Epidemic Pumps Diabetes Crisis To New Heights

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Diabetes joined opioids last year in eclipsing a six-figure death rate in a year scarred by mortality from a novel virus that’s exposed the inadequacies of our health-care system as a sick-care system.

According to a Reuters review of 2021 provisional death data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Monday, more than 100,000 Americans died from diabetes, “marking the second consecutive year for that grim milestone and spurring a call for a federal mobilization similar to the fight against HIV/AIDS.”

Diabetes-related deaths climbed 17 percent in 2020, and 15 percent in 2021 from where they were in 2019 preceding global lockdowns, when diabetes was the 7th leading cause of American mortality. Such numbers did not include those attributed to the novel coronavirus.

“The large number of diabetes deaths for a second year in a row is certainly a cause for alarm,” Dr. Paul Hsu, an epidemiologist at the University of California at Los Angeles, told Reuters. “Type 2 diabetes itself is relatively preventable, so it’s ever more tragic that so many deaths are occurring.”

The data revealed in Reuters comes weeks after the congressionally established National Clinical Care Commission published its report with government recommendations to combat diabetes.

“Historically, diabetes prevention and treatment have been considered to be medical problems requiring medical treatment,” the commission wrote. “Limited attention has been paid to the social and environmental conditions that contribute to diabetes and make managing diabetes more challenging.”

In other words, it’s beyond time to reconsider diabetes as a chronically fatal condition to prevent, as opposed to a medical problem to treat. With more than 34 million Americans, or one in ten, considered diabetic, the commission outlined a number of strategies aimed broadly at reducing its prevalence and enhancing its treatment in those already afflicted. Recommendations include better promiting healthy eating in food assistance programs and taxes on sugary drinks to stem the tide of a prime comorbidity for Covid. Today, 1 in 3 American adults are already prediabetic.

Mentioned 48 times in their report, the commission made clear the association between type 2 diabetes, the most common form, with obesity, which is also preventable by healthy living.

“The increasing prevalence of type 2 diabetes in the U.S. has been associated with dramatic increases in the prevalence of obesity, which, like type 2 diabetes, can result from unhealthy social and environmental conditions,” read the report. Commissioners noted more than 42 percent of U.S. adults today are struggling with obesity, up from more than 14 percent in 1975. Ten percent of U.S. adults are now considered extremely obese, and CDC data shows 70 percent of the country is at least overweight, putting those with healthy BMI scores in the minority.

“Rates of childhood obesity have also increased over the years,” commissioners added, “with nearly 20 percent of American youth two to 19 years of age having obesity.”

If only the country listened to First Lady Michelle Obama 10 years ago, those numbers would likely be on a downward trend.

The science is unclear on how to prevent Type 1 diabetes, but there are ways to prevent type 2. Excess weight and lack of consistent exercise are primary culprits of the disease, with such patients at twofold risk of severe outcomes from Covid-19, similar to obesity. According to a 75-study meta-analysis probing the risks to obese individuals presented by Covid, infected patients who were obese were at least 113 percent more likely to be hospitalized, at least 72 percent more likely to need intensive care, and nearly 50 percent more likely to die.

The diabetes crisis is yet another symptom of our self-inflicted endemic failure to confront the obesity crisis. Despite the ongoing stress to families and the health care system as the ultimate epidemic at the heart of the Covid crisis, cultural icons have capitalized on the emotional strings attached to obesity’s challenges to glorify the condition with acceptance as opposed to one that’s immediately debilitating and eventually fatal.