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Pre-Diabetes is Becoming an Epidemic in California

Psst. Carbs and smoking are still the enemy. Mobilize and prepare for battle.


A recent study out of UCLA found that 46 percent of adult Californians have pre-diabetes, putting them at risk for the full-blown disease.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when cells stop responding to insulin, which means they don’t take in glucose. Elevated glucose in the blood can damage our eyes, heart, kidneys, brain, and other organs.

The health care community has been telling us to eat less and exercise more for years. This is good advice, but sometimes falls on deaf ears. More specifically, we should be careful with carbs.

“Carbohydrate-rich foods are directly converted to glucose in the blood, and therefore have a direct effect on elevating blood sugar,” says Athena Philis-Tsimikas, corporate vice president for the Scripps Whittier Diabetes Institute. “Limiting the quantity of these foods can prevent rapid and extensive rises in blood sugar. But do not cut them out completely; these are needed as fuel for our muscles and brain.”

Smoking is also a big contributor to diabetes—smokers increase their risk by 50 percent. Oddly enough, moderate drinking might have the opposite effect. One drink a day for women, and two a day for men, may help get blood sugar inside cells.

Still, at some point we need to circle back to diet and exercise whether we like it or not. Philis-Tsimikas suggests we not go it alone.

“Learning about the factors that drive the development of the disease may be the most effective prevention. Also, find a good support system to help set and keep up with goals.”  

Get With the Program

Thirty percent of San Diegans are pre-diabetic, and 90 percent of them don’t know it. “It’s a huge, growing threat,” says Barbara Mandel, CEO of Champions for Health, formerly San Diego County Medical Society Foundation.

“If someone is pre-diabetic today and leaves it unaddressed, chances are great he or she will be diabetic within three to five years.”  To combat this growing problem, several organizations, including Champions for Health, are providing a healthy lifestyle program with a curriculum created by the National Diabetes Prevention Program and certified by the CDC. Launching this month, it begins with weekly classes.

Champions for Health calls it “Jump Start for Health” and will initially offer it free to members of the Mission Valley, Clairemont Mesa (Toby Wells), and City Heights (Copley-Price) YMCAs, in addition to Lemon Grove Academy schoolteachers. Much is riding on this program, and Mandel wants to make sure it’s effective. “We’re adding a secret sauce,” she says.

“In addition to the classes, we’ll include telephone coaching, virtual coaching, and text messaging, so people feel supported.” Go to jumpstartforhealth.org to assess your risk factor and find a program coming to an area near you.

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