CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia has one of the highest diabetes rates in the nation.
That distinction has implications for all of us, from parents to children, and is something that touches probably every family in the state in some way. Nearly 26 million American adults have diabetes, including more than 1 in 10 adults in West Virginia.
Diabetes is a lifelong illness that can cause severe complications like heart and kidney disease, stroke, blindness, and amputations. If current trends continue, one in three children in our state will develop diabetes within his or her lifetime. Besides being something that causes lifelong personal and family struggles, diabetes is a costly and burdensome disease for our health-care system.
We can and must step up our efforts to fight this challenge head on.
A broad range of partners in our state are hard at work on that front. Emerging efforts to prevent and control Type 2 diabetes are particularly promising, and our state has taken a leading role in working to confront this chronic disease today and for the future.
Today, the West Virginia Bureau of Public Health and the Appalachian Regional Commission will convene a roundtable discussion in Charleston with people from across West Virginia to talk about the state's diabetes prevention efforts.
Dr. Ann Albright, a diabetes expert from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will be on hand to lend her expertise. Key groups and advocates from the public and private sectors -- health professionals, insurance companies, state and federal agencies, academics, community leaders, and local groups -- will share ideas and questions about ways to combat this disease. And the discussion is building on many other efforts that have taken place in the state and nationwide.
One example is the National Diabetes Prevention Program, which West Virginia is in the process of implementing. It's a proven strategy that decreases the likelihood of Type 2 diabetes by encouraging those who are pre-diabetic to make lifestyle changes, such as better food choices and more physical activity. It's shown groundbreaking results -- already successfully reducing the onset of Type 2 diabetes in at-risk participants by 58 percent overall and 71 percent in adults over 60 years old.
The program is still growing in West Virginia, and in 2011, the state received a federal grant that will allow the training of at least 100 community health workers to expand the program throughout more of our communities over the next five years. It is always a challenge to take innovative programs to a bigger statewide scale, especially in rural states like West Virginia -- but it is a challenge we must take on if we are to succeed in building a healthier state and keeping health-care costs under control.
It is Sen. Rockefeller's hope that the benefits and impressive success of the National Diabetes Prevention Program also will be extended to all seniors through the Medicare program. Sen. Rockefeller helped introduce a bipartisan bill to do that by including seniors and people with disabilities enrolled in Medicare -- a change that studies show will improve care and decrease health-care costs by reducing the onset of diabetes.
The legislation would allow Medicare to implement the diabetes prevention program through community settings like the YMCA, hospital community rooms, local health departments, and local churches -- reaching people at risk for diabetes wherever they live. We would all reap the rewards from the bill as it would improve the health of millions of seniors and individuals with disabilities, reduce health costs nationwide, and create jobs through more community health workers.
The statistics on those impacted by diabetes -- or are likely to be impacted in the future -- are daunting, but it's wonderful to see West Virginians are doubling down on initiatives to reduce diabetes. This disease is preventable for so many people. And through a coordinated effort -- as we're continuing to do in West Virginia and throughout the country -- we can work to beat it. We won't give up.
Rockefeller is West Virginia's senior senator, and Gohl is federal co-chairman of the Appalachian Regional Commission.