CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Diabetes is a growing threat to Americans' health, with 26 million Americans diagnosed with Type II diabetes today. The disease increases the risks of vision problems, neurological disease and heart disease. It forever changes the lives of those who have it.
The number of Americans suffering from the disease is rapidly rising. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that by 2050, as many as one in three Americans could be at risk for developing chronic diabetes. That would mean more than 100 million diabetic Americans. Yet, with 19,000 American children diagnosed every year, it is not just today's Americans who are being affected, but it is the Americans of tomorrow.
In West Virginia we are acutely aware of the problems diabetes presents. With roughly 13 percent of West Virginians afflicted with diabetes, one of the highest percentages in the country, the disease costs the state roughly $1 billion a year in health costs and lost wages and untold suffering. Right now, 250,000 West Virginians are fighting a condition that, on average, shortens life expectancy by 15 years, and diminishes a person's ability to work and make a living.
Worse still, the disease is occurring in more children. The rate of childhood diabetes has grown rapidly. Children who develop Type II diabetes are more likely to develop the most severe complications from diabetes and to require more invasive treatment. Yet, there is good news. Many of the diabetes cases in children can be reversed or avoided with early screening, and lifestyle changes.
We can prevent a lifetime of complications that can come with diabetes by focusing on detecting the disease in children, especially when they are in the early stages of diabetes or pre-diabetes. With the right diet, exercise, and good life choices those with pre-diabetes can prevent the onset of chronic diabetes. As a state, there must be more effort toward stopping this epidemic from affecting our children.
The good news is that we can make significant progress in combating childhood diabetes quickly and cheaply. Just as schools now screen for asthma and scoliosis, schools can screen children for diabetes risk factors. Five minutes of screening could make the difference between a child who will battle diabetes for the rest of their lives, and those who escape the battle altogether.
By implementing a screening program in sixth and ninth grades, the beginning of middle school and high school respectively, which would look at body mass index, family history, and other physical indicators, school nurses and health officials can identify which children would be at risk. School nurses would then have several options:
* They could request parental permission to test the glucose level of the child with a simple, easy and quick portable glucose meter.
* They could provide education and information to parents and families about nutrition, physical activity and community resources.
* They could make the necessary referrals to health care professionals for further assessment and treatment. With this information, the health professionals can then recommend the best options for preventing chronic onset of diabetes.
Here in the Mountain State we pride ourselves on hard work, independence, and being there for our neighbors in need. Our children are now in need of our help. We must ensure that they become healthy adults so they can carry our West Virginia values into the future. Fighting diabetes, especially in our children, is a battle West Virginia cannot lose. But with early action, we will win.
Gottlieb, of Charleston, is a junior at Georgetown University.