Letter to Editor: Diabetes prevention deserves funding help
The recent decision by Gov. Chris Christie to veto bipartisan legislation expanding the evidence-based Diabetes Prevention Program to Medicaid recipients in New Jersey was ill-advised and is a setback in the movement towards preventative health equity. Moreover, it deprives some of our most vulnerable residents of a critical intervention in the prevention of type 2 diabetes.
A recent report by the International Diabetes Federation shows the number of people with diabetes increased to a record 282 million people worldwide in 2013. In the United States alone, nearly 26 million people suffer from the disease. In New Jersey, approximately 700,000 individuals live with type 2 diabetes and many others are at risk for developing it.
An estimated one in three adults in the U.S. — 79 million people — have prediabetes, yet just 11 percent of those individuals are aware of this diagnosis. Prediabetes is the condition in which individuals have blood glucose levels that are higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes. However, these individuals are at a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes, as well as other chronic diseases such as heart disease and stroke.
These statistics are alarming, and the impact on the cost of health care and the overall well-being of our communities makes preventing the number of new cases of type 2 diabetes more important than ever before. While some people see a prediabetes diagnosis as a positive development — an indication that one is “safe” – in reality having prediabetes is a final “wake-up” call for individuals to improve their health.
Focusing on prevention through diagnosing and treating those with prediabetes is the key to reducing the number of cases. Simple lifestyle changes, such as eating better and increasing physical activity, can delay or prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes. However, the reality is many Americans either don’t know they are at risk or are challenged on how to make the necessary behavioral changes to stave off the disease.
Educating the millions of Americans who have prediabetes that are at risk is the first step. Organizations like the American Medical Association are working to educate doctors on the importance of diagnosing prediabetes and recommending treatment solutions. In addition, programs that are part of the CDC’s National Diabetes Prevention Program have been helpful to thousands of individuals. For example, more than 15,000 individuals have participated in the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program and, through education around, healthy eating, physical activity and other lifestyle changes, have lost an average of 4.9 percent of their body weight.
These kinds of intervention programs, delivered outside of a health care setting, have reduced the number of new cases of type 2 diabetes by 58 percent in all adults and by 71 percent for people 60 or older. By increasing the awareness and treatment of prediabetes, we can improve the health of our country and save billions in health care costs.
I applaud members of the Legislature who saw the importance and value of prevention as a critical component in the efforts of many of us to impact and improve population health. I would hope this legislation will again be approved and that our governor will use better judgement and sign this important advancement in diabetes prevention into law.
The New Jersey YMCA State Alliance
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