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Many Americans Fear Being Diagnosed With Diabetes

But most do little to reduce risks of getting blood sugar disease, survey finds

TUESDAY, March 24 (HealthDay News) -- More than half of Americans fear developing diabetes, but many continue the unhealthy behaviors that boost their odds of getting the blood sugar disease, a new survey shows.

"I think people continue the risky behaviors because they think, 'It's not going to happen to me,'" said Dr. Richard M. Bergenstal, president-elect for medicine and science for the American Diabetes Association, which commissioned the survey. "Or, they know they are at risk but they are so ingrained in their daily lifestyle they have not been motivated to change."

The survey, released Tuesday as part of American Diabetes Alert Day, is meant as a "wake-up call" to raise awareness of diabetes and its risk factors.

The poll was conducted online by Harris Interactive in February and early March. More than 2,500 U.S. adults aged 18 and above were polled.

Choosing from a list, 52 percent of respondents said having a chronic illness was the worst thing they could imagine happening. In comparison, just 19 percent said drowning in debt would be the worst thing, while 13 percent cited getting a divorce or living alone, 11 percent cited losing their job and 4 percent said gaining significant weight would be the worst thing.

About half said they haven't talked to their doctor about common chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, HIV/AIDS or Alzheimer's disease.

Most of those polled knew at least one diabetes risk factor, but fewer than half recognized their own risk factors (such as overweight). And more than half the respondents mistakenly said eating too much sugar was a diabetes risk factor.

While 70 percent of respondents said maintaining an unhealthy weight is risky, 46 percent admitted to being overweight.

And while 66 percent of those who answered said avoiding doctors is risky, 50 percent said they did just that.

"It's pretty amazing, the level of inactivity and poor eating," said Bergenstal, who is also executive director of the International Diabetes Center at Park-Nicollet Health Services in Minneapolis. "Most people most know it's not good for them."

He suspects that some people are in denial, knowing on some level that poor eating habits and a lack of exercise are both unhealthy, but thinking it won't affect them.

"We started doing Diabetes Alert Day 21 years ago," he said. At that time, about 6 million people in the United States had diabetes. "Now, 20 years later, 18 million are diagnosed," he said, with a total of nearly 24 million either diagnosed or suspected to have the condition.

"It's gone up 300 percent in 20 years," Bergenstal said.

Cut Your Risk of Diabetes

The first step to cutting your risk of diabetes? Figure out if you actually are at risk and what your risk factors are, said Mary Austin, a diabetes educator and consultant in Detroit. To find out, ask your doctor. Or, take the American Diabetes Association online quiz to assess your risk. Then address the risks that apply to you by following Austin's advice:

  • Lose weight if you are overweight. "Modest weight loss -- 5 to 10 percent of your starting weight -- can have a significant impact," she said.
  • Start moving. Research has suggested that getting 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week can lower diabetes risk, Austin said.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Monitor your blood pressure. High blood pressure boosts the risk of getting diabetes.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables. "Increased intake of fruits and vegetables correlates with reduced blood pressure," Austin said.

More information

To assess your risk factors for diabetes, visit the American Diabetes Association.

SOURCES: Richard M. Bergenstal, M.D., president-elect, medicine and science, American Diabetes Association, and executive director, International Diabetes Center at Park-Nicollet Health Services, Minneapolis; Mary Austin, R.D., diabetes educator and consultant, Detroit; March 24, 2009, survey, American Diabetes Association

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