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November was National Diabetes Month, providing a great opportunity to educate the community on the disease and bring awareness to its alarming statistics. According to a recent U.S. News & World Report article, diabetes is the nation’s most expensive health condition, with the fiscal impact being $237 billion in direct medical costs and $90 billion in reduced productivity, 300 million workdays lost, and diabetes resulting in 277,000 premature deaths.

Diabetes by the numbers» In the United States, diabetes is the seventh-leading cause of death.

» Diabetes is the No. 1 cause of kidney failure, lower-limb amputations and adult blindness.

» In the last 20 years, the number of adults diagnosed with diabetes has more than doubled.

» 30.3 million Americans have diabetes, and 1 in 4 do not know they have it.

» More than 84 million Americans have prediabetes, meaning 1 in 3.

What is diabetes?Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects how your body turns food into energy, and there are three main types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2 and gestational diabetes (diabetes that develops while a woman is pregnant). With Type 1 diabetes, your body cannot make insulin, so you need to take insulin every day. Type 1 diabetes is less common than Type 2 diabetes, and about 5 percent of people who have diabetes have Type 1. However, no one knows how to prevent Type 1 diabetes.

With Type 2 diabetes, your body cannot properly use insulin (a hormone that helps glucose get into the cells of the body). A person is at higher risk if they are 45 years or older, overweight, have a family history of diabetes, are not physically active, or are a woman who had gestational diabetes.

Gestational diabetes is a kind of diabetes that some women get when they are pregnant. Even if a woman’s blood sugar levels go down after her baby is born, she is at higher risk of getting Type 2 diabetes later in life.

What is prediabetes?Having prediabetes means your blood glucose (sugar) levels are higher than normal — but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Prediabetes can lead to heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. Awareness is critical since prediabetes can be reversed through lifestyle changes such as healthy eating and increased physical activity.

In North Carolina, an estimated 2.5 million people may have prediabetes. Lifestyle changes are crucial for those diagnosed with prediabetes, as 15 percent to 30 percent of people with prediabetes will develop Type 2 diabetes within three to five years if no changes are made.

PreventionThe great news is that Type 2 diabetes can be delayed or even prevented. You can lower your chances of developing Type 2 diabetes by:

Losing weight and keeping it off. You may be able to prevent or delay diabetes by losing 5 to 7 percent of your starting weight. For instance, if you weigh 200 pounds, your goal would be to lose about 10 to 14 pounds.

Moving more. The American Diabetes Association and the National Academy of Sports Medicine recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate to intense activity each week. That’s just 30 minutes a day, five days a week. You can do it. If you have not been active, talk with your health-care professional about which activities are best. Start slowly to build up to your goal.

Healthy eating can decrease your risk of Type 2 diabetes. Diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and good fats protect against diabetes. Eating red and processed meats increases the risk of diabetes. Eating smaller portions help reduce the amount of calories you eat each day. Drink water instead of sweetened beverages.

Living tobacco-free. Smokers are 30-40 percent more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes compared with nonsmokers. Smoking can also make diabetes management more difficult to control.

Getting enough sleep. Believe it not, sleep has important roles in controlling the functions of many body systems. Studies have described associations between diabetes, insulin resistance and sleep deprivation. Seven to eight hours of sleep is recommended for adults nightly. Go to bed.

Through the Cabarrus Health Alliance’s diabetes prevention and management programs, hundreds of community members have been screened in Cabarrus and Rowan counties and referred to free, community-based programs that best address their needs. Visit www.cabarrushealth.org/diabetes for more information.

If you have prediabetes or other risk factors for Type 2 diabetes, it’s time to take charge of your health.

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Rolanda L. Patrick, MPH, is the diabetes prevention program manager and regional coordinator for the Cabarrus Health Alliance.