EDITORIAL: Diabetes awareness

Involvement in American Diabetes Month pulls Mississippians into recognizing and dealing with one of the most important personal and public health issues confronting our state.

Diabetes is the inability of the body to metabolize sugar and other carbohydrates in a normal way – a harmful, chronic, incurable and fatal disease if unmanaged and untreated.

Mississippi has the highest diabetes rate in America. The incidence is related to our obesity rate, also the highest in the nation, and our citizens' widespread, alarmingly low rate of regular, therapeutic exercise. Those factors combined contribute to a heart disease and stroke rate that is the highest in the nation, a link to soaring health care costs among the poor, including those in the controversial Medicaid program at the heart of political warfare in the state Capitol.

About 7.9 percent of all Mississippians – 225,000 – have diabetes, and one-third those are undiagnosed. An estimated 1,600-1,900 Mississippians die every year from diabetes and its complications.

Premature death involving diabetes is a significant risk in Mississippi, especially among African-Americans, who comprise about 38 percent of the population.

Most disturbing, about 700,000 other Mississippians who don't yet have diabetes are at risk of developing it because of health factors almost fully within their control: weight, exercise, and diet.

This year, for the first time, the American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association and American Heart Association joined in unified health recommendations for the public and joint screening advice for physicians, using common risks and common benefits related to the three diseases they fight.

“Everyday Choices For A Healthier Life” is a three-year campaign based on four preventive strategies.

The recommendations are:

– Consume a healthy diet as a key component to achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight

– Be physically active.

– Don't smoke, and avoid tobacco smoke.

– See a physician to assess your personal health risks.

A Mississippian, Dr. Ralph Vance, is president of the American Cancer Society, and said, “Follow a healthy diet, achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, become more physically active and avoid tobacco smoke. These steps can become a part of your daily life, and can help protect you and your family from cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.”

Vance is professor of medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

The point in the three organizations' effort is to combine the persuasive and financial power of the public and private sector with the intellectual resources of the scientific community in searching for cures for all three diseases – while each does its responsible share.

A free educational brochure has been developed and is available by calling, toll-free, 1-866-399-6789.

A new, joint Web site, www.everydaychoices.org, features helpful tips and links.

North Mississippi Medical Center's Diabetes Education Center suggests that people who believe they or ones they love have diabetic symptoms immediately see a personal physician, go to a walk-in clinic, or, if working and without health insurance and resident in Lee County, go to the Good Samaritan Clinic, 420 Magazine St., Tupelo (844-3733, by appointment) for a test.

Diabetes is a serious condition. It cannot be ignored individually – or as a public health issue – without consequence.

To join an online discussion of this topic, log on to www.djournal.com, or respond at opinion@djournal.com for publication as a letter to the editor.