A Time For Reflection: National Diabetes Month and International Diabetes Day

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Nearly 21 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes, andanother 54 million people are knocking at that door. Diabetes is the fifthdeadliest disease in the nation and may well be the most serious health problemfacing America today. Nevertheless, the public doesn't seem to grasp the gravityof the situation, at least not like they did with polio, for instance, or AIDS.

In an effort to focus the public mind on just how devastating diabetes isbecoming, we designate November of every year as National Diabetes Month. Withinthat month is another landmark: the sixteenth annual World Diabetes Day is beingobserved on November 14 in honor of the birthdate of Frederick Banting, who,along with Charles Best, discovered insulin in 1921. World Diabetes Day was alsonamed a special United Nations Day in 2006, when a landmark resolution on thesubject was passed by the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Both the day and the month aim not only to raise public awareness, but also tohonor the dedicated people who work with diabetes and the millions who live withit. This year the special focus of World Diabetes Day is on how diabetes affectschildren and adolescents throughout the world. It's a growing problem, evidencedby both an alarming increase in type 2 in children and an upswing in the numbersof children who are being diagnosed with type 1.

The focus of National Diabetes Month varies from week to week. Week One honorsthe caregivers and companions whose lives are affected by the diabetes of theirloved ones. Week Two focuses on the workplace, encouraging employers to promotehealthy lifestyles for their employees in the war on type 2 diabetes. WeekThree concentrates on the global epidemic: over 246 million people have diabetesworldwide, and seven million more get it every year. By 2020, the total will bearound 380 million!

Week Four emphasizes the devastation that diabetes is wreaking on ethnicpopulations. African-Americans, Hispanics, and indigenous Americans haveespecially high rates of diabetes. If current trends continue, one in twominorities born in 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime. The bonus week,Week Five, focuses on children, one in 400 of whom has been stricken with type 1diabetes.

Diabetes is already having devastating human, social, and economic impacts. Ifthings don't change, it could swamp healthcare services in many countries,including the United States. November is a month to come together to reflect onthe implications of diabetes, personally, nationally, and globally. Hopefully,our reflections will spur us to take action against this calamitous epidemic.

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