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Guest Column: Georgians, unite to fight diabetes
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle

As I have traveled the state and met with Georgians from all walks of life, it has become increasingly evident that an issue of priority to many is health care and disease prevention.

When the topic of health care and disease prevention is brought up in a group setting, I have been surprised to learn how many people share with me that they suffer from diabetes. In learning more about the disease and talking with those who are affected with it, I have come to appreciate the fact that we are blessed to live in a time when the health care industry continues to find new and innovative ways to treat and manage diseases.

While this is encouraging, diabetes is a lifelong disease that needs to be managed well. The key is proper, early diagnosis and thoughtful management of the disease.

Diabetes is simply a failure or reduction of the body's ability to process sugar. As with many diseases, the failure to properly diagnose it can cause a whole host of problems ranging from heart and kidney disease to blindness and depression. While the exact cause of diabetes is still unknown, risk factors such as family history, obesity, impaired glucose tolerance, high blood pressure, low activity levels and a poor diet can trigger the disease and serve as early warning signs.

Type I diabetes usually affects children and young adults and the body does not produce insulin. Type II diabetes is much more common and is caused when the body doesn't produce enough necessary insulin or the cells ignore the insulin.

Why is diabetes prevention and treatment an important issue to me as lieutenant governor? Because in Georgia alone, there are currently nearly 715,000 people living with diabetes and sadly, 30 percent of those who suffer from it are simply not aware that they are afflicted. In just the past five years, we have seen numbers of those affected in Georgia increase by 20 percent.

This number will continue to climb. Dr. William Rowley at the Institute for Alternative Futures projects that 1.6 million people in Georgia will be living with diabetes in 2025. That is nearly a fifth of Georgia's population today.

If those numbers do not leave an impact, consider that according to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes' cost to the U.S. economy was approximately $132 billion in 2002. Clearly, diabetes can greatly affect a person's personal health and well-being, job performance, and overall satisfaction in life. It also affects our overall economic well-being to care for this costly disease.

The good news is that prevention programs are sprouting up all around the country, with some in our own backyard. The Center for Health Transformation, through its Healthy Georgia Diabetes & Obesity Project, is working with a collaboration of leaders throughout the state to prevent diabetes and its complications. Through community projects like the Diabetes Medicare Screening Project in Columbus and the 21st Century Healthy Community Project in Gainesville, there is an effort to change the health of communities through education, screening and programs to improve diet and increase exercise.

Georgia employers are supporting the center's pay-for-performance programs that reward physicians for quality diabetes care. Georgia is quickly becoming an example for the nation of implementing 21st century solutions to improve the health of our citizens.

As we celebrate this holiday season, I encourage you to give your friends and family a gift that would mean much more to them than anything you can put under the tree. If you have a family history of diabetes or find that your lifestyle aligns with the risk factors, take the time to get tested. Your doctor can run a fasting plasma glucose test or an oral glucose tolerance test to determine if you have pre-diabetes or diabetes. It is fully possible to delay, or even prevent, Type II diabetes from developing by taking action and making changes to your physical activity level and everyday diet.

Not only will your family be grateful, but you will rest easier knowing that you can take steps today to live a longer and healthier life.

Casey Cagle is Georgia's lieutenant governor and a Hall County native. Contact him at 240 State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334; phone, 404-656-5030. Published Dec. 6, 2007.