Important Things to Know During American Diabetes Month (2023)

Every November, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and the diabetes community come together to raise awareness of the diabetes epidemic in the United States. Experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 37.3 million Americans (about one in ten) have diabetes and that one in five of those people is unaware that they have it. Another 96 million American adults are prediabetic, and over 80% don’t know they are. While diabetes is a manageable condition, it’s dangerous to let it go untreated. In this article I’ll walk you through some of the basics of diabetes and how you can take the best possible care of your body.

Basic Diabetes Facts: Type 1, Type 2, Gestational

Patient getting their blood levels checked

It’s important to take care of your health and get your blood sugar levels tested (Source: Shutterstock)

You’ve probably heard of diabetes and may even know someone who lives with it, but do you know what it is? The term diabetes mellitus refers to a group of metabolic disorders that affect the way your body processes glucose, which is the simple sugar found in your blood. Having type 1 diabetes means your pancreas produces little to no insulin, which is the hormone your body uses to convert glucose into energy. With type 2 diabetes, your pancreas produces insufficient insulin, and your body uses that insulin inefficiently. It’s also possible to develop diabetes for the first time during pregnancy, which is known as gestational diabetes and usually goes away after delivery.

Some people who develop diabetes experience symptoms like frequent thirst, the need to urinate more often, fatigue, vision changes, and mood changes, while others are largely asymptomatic. The only way to know for sure that you have diabetes is through one of several blood sugar tests. If you’re seeing a doctor for your annual physical and a comprehensive metabolic panel, you should have an idea of your glucose level. If there’s any chance you may be living with undiagnosed diabetes, it’s important to reach out to your physician for an updated workup.

If left untreated, the complications of diabetes can be severe and, in some cases, fatal. These can include heart and kidney disease, vision and hearing loss, dental problems, nerve damage, and even problems with your feet. Diabetes can also affect your mental health and increase your risk of developing vascular dementia, a form of cognitive decline. That’s why it’s so important to know if you have it—while there’s no cure for any form of diabetes, there are effective treatments to keep you healthy. Knowledge is power!

How to Prevent Diabetes: Healthy Eating and More

balanced diet, cooking, culinary and food concept - close up of different foodstuffs on table

Choosing a more balanced diet can positively impact your body and health (Source: Shutterstock)

Given the many serious complications of diabetes, it’s wise to take control of your health as much as you can. While diabetes isn’t always entirely preventable, building healthy habits into your daily routine can help reduce the likelihood of developing it.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when your immune system attacks your pancreas. It isn’t related to your lifestyle, and unfortunately, you can do nothing to prevent yourself from getting it. Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is linked to being overweight or obese and sedentary. That doesn’t mean that every person with type 2 diabetes developed it due to overeating or a lack of exercise, nor does it mean that all overweight people become diabetic. What it does mean is that a balanced and nutritious diet low in sugar and a great everyday fitness routine are important habits for diabetes prevention. It also means that patients who have been unable to prevent type 2 diabetes can live healthier, happier, longer lives by eating well and making time to work out.

You don’t have to eliminate all desserts and become a full-time resident of the gym to take better care of your physical health. Experts recommend a balanced diet high in lean protein, like fish and chicken, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and heart-healthy oils like olive oil. It doesn’t mean that you can’t ever enjoy French fries and cookies again—but it does mean that you should treat them as occasional indulgences. Be especially mindful of the sugary drinks you consume, whether that means soda, juice, alcohol, or sweetened coffee drinks. It’s easy to gulp down almost an entire day’s worth of sugar in a 12oz can of regular soda . . . yikes!

Five ways to prevent type 2 diabetes – Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

You should aim to work out five days a week for about thirty minutes. If you’re not a big gym person, try a barre or dance class, swimming, or streaming a workout you can do in your home. Do you need some fresh air? Head out for a walk, jog, or run—it’ll help clear your head and fight diabetes at the same time. You can also find ways to add quick spurts of exercise to your daily routine. Make a point of taking the stairs instead of the elevator and parking your car in a spot far away from your destination. Every little bit of activity adds up to better health!

American Diabetes Month: November 2023

Why do we need an American Diabetes Month? It’s important to raise awareness of diabetes for a number of reasons: prevention, early detection and treatment, research, and better support for people living with types 1 and 2. It’s also no secret that diabetes in America has become an epidemic. Per the CDC, 11.3% of the population is living with diabetes, and about 20% of those people are unaware of it. Moreover, the cost of diabetes is astronomical: a staggering $327 billion in 2017. These diseases are making Americans less healthy and financially stable, and there’s no time like the present to address their far-reaching effects.

Why is the incidence of diabetes so high in the U.S.? Experts cite the prevalence of sugary sodas and snacks, processed foods, and fried foods, coupled with a lack of emphasis on exercise. Americans are busier than ever with work, school, family, and other obligations. A packed schedule makes it tempting to skip your morning workout, grab a donut on your way to work, and crash on the couch at the end of the day. It’s not easy to break these habits, but you’ve done difficult things before and can do this. Whether you’re living with diabetes or taking steps to prevent it, let’s make this American Diabetes Month the starting point for habits that keep us thriving for years to come.