K-State agents Kathy Bloom, left, and Jane Eisenhauer demonstrate some of the dishes diabetics can enjoy in their diet earlier this year during one of the Dining with Diabetes programs at the Seward County Activity Center. This year’s program wrapped up Tuesday, and Bloom said plans are already in the works for next fall. Daily Leader file photo/Robert Pierce
By ROBERT PIERCE
• Daily Leader
There is a growing rate in America of cases of both blindness and youth obesity, and researchers are finding that the cause of one can be the result of the other.
Each year, according to the Kansas Optometric Association, 12,000 to 24,000 people lose their sight because of diabetes, making it the leading cause of blindness in adults 20 to 74 years of age.
Meanwhile, the number of youths with Type 2 diabetes between the ages of 12 and 19 is estimated to exceed 40,000 nationwide. Although no one knows for sure, some experts are attributing that rise to a similar rise in the level of obesity in childhood.
To fight blindness, the KOA is urging Kansans living with diabetes and diabetic eye disease to schedule dilated, comprehensive eye exams on a yearly basis.
According to a release from the KOA, the key to successful eye care is to monitor the disease, including vision, which is why it is recommended that those with diabetes have a dilated examination annually. More frequent exams may be needed for those with diabetic retinopathy or if a change in vision is noticed.
“During a dilated exam, an optometrist will look at your retina for early signs of diabetic eye disease, such as leaking blood vessels, swelling and deposits on the retina,” Dr. Steven said. Bryant, the president of the KOA. “Optometrists often serve as the first line of detection for diabetes, since the eye is the only place on the body that blood vessels can be seen without having to look through the skin.”
Bryant estimated that by 2020, the number of people suffering from diabetic eye disease is expected to nearly double. He did say, however, monitoring and maintaining control of diabetes through regular visits along with adherence to the doctor’s instructions can lower one’s risk of developing diabetic eye disease by as much as 76 percent.
As for Type 2 diabetes, Dr. Jason Eberhart-Phillips, the Kansas state health officer and director of health for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said with a growing number of overweight adolescents, some experts are now calling the disease “the first consequence” of America’s emerging problem of youth obesity.
“Type 2 diabetes is supposed to be an adult disease,” Eberhart-Phillips said. “In fact, it was once called ‘adult-onset diabetes,’ because it hardly ever occurred before 40 years of age – until recently.”
The health officer added the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes increases sharply when a child has excess weight for several years.
“With obesity rates doubling among children age 6 to 11 since 1990 – and more than tripling among adolescents age 12 to 19 during that time – it should come as no surprise that type 2 diabetes is also on the rise in young people,” he said.
Type 2 is by far the most common form of diabetes in adults. It develops when glucose, the basic fuel for the body’s cell, builds up in the blood because the cells have become resistant to the action of insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas.
“At first, the pancreas pumps out more insulin to overcome the resistance, but eventually, it can’t keep up,” Eberhart-Phillips said. “Over time, high levels of glucose begin to damage critical blood vessels, leading in some cases to blindness, kidney disease, problems with the nervous system and a higher risk for heart attacks and strokes.”
Eberhart-Phillips said the warning signs of Type 2 diabetes can include fatigue, increased thirst, frequent urination, blurred vision, slow healing of sores and cuts and irregular periods in girls.
“Some youngsters exhibit a darkening patch of skin on the back of the neck or elsewhere that doctors call acanthosis nigricans,” he said.
The doctor added, however, there are often no signs at all, and the onset of Type 2 diabetes can be slow and insidious, leaving many young people undiagnosed for years.
“That’s why clinical screening for diabetes in overweight youth is so important,” he said. “The only way to detect Type 2 diabetes for sure is to routinely offer high-risk kids a sample blood test, such as a serum glucose level measured over an overnight fast.”
Eberhart-Phillips said if tests show evidence of diabetes, glucose-lowering treatments can begin right away before the damaging effects of diabetes become severe. The tests can also identify kids who have “pre-diabetes,” a condition halfway down the path to full-blown disease.
It is estimated that in America today, there are two million adolescents with pre-diabetes, and fully one in five overweight teenagers now finds themselves in this high-risk group.
Eberhart-Phillips said the twin pillars of diabetes prevention are healthy eating and active living.
“This means keeping junk food out of our homes and schools, helping kids avoid excessive consumption of calorie-rich fast foods and other snacks and putting more effort into ensuring that children receive nutritious, well-balanced meals every day,” he said.
This also means being more intentional about encouraging physical activity so that the calories kids take in get burned off in active play.
“For parents, that means turning off the television and the computer games,” Eberhart-Phillips said. “For school leaders, it means working more vigorous physical activity into the school day. For community leaders, it means ensuring that there are attractive recreational areas for children to play and programs that promote physical activity.”
Eberhart-Phillips said no one in Kansas needs to develop Type 2 diabetes before they are well into middle age.
“It should never happen to a child,” he said. “Together, we can make sure it never does.”