It's World Diabetes Day: Nearly 1 in 10 Angelenos have the disease

Nov. 14, 2012, 1:19 p.m.

Insulin. About 26 million people worldwide and 685,000 Los Angeles County residents have diabetes, which costs the county about $6 billion a year in treatment costs. (Megan Morris/Flickr Creative Commons)

The man who co-discovered insulin was born 121 years ago today, which is why Nov. 14 marks World Diabetes Day.

Insulin, of course, proved to be a crucial tool in diabetes management and helping people with the condition keep their blood sugar in check. But despite that major breakthrough, the world is in need of another: More than 250 million people worldwide have the disease, with nearly 26 million of them residing in the United States.

Obesity, which has reached epidemic levels in the country, state and county, plays a major role in the development of diabetes. A new report from the county's Department of Public Health shows that nearly 10 percent of Angelenos – about 685,000 people – have diabetes. That marks a dramatic 50-percent increase since 1997, when just 6.6 percent of county residents had the condition.

The highest incidence rates were found among those who 65 and older, with the vast majority of diabetes cases – 90 percent – being of the type 2 variety. County analysts also found that the rate of the disease among black people and Latinos is higher than that of their white and Asian counterparts.

Not surprisingly, the disease also occurred at higher rates among low-income people, with nearly 14 percent of L.A. residents who were at or below the federal poverty line diagnosed with the condition.

South Los Angeles didn't have the highest incidence rate in Los Angeles, but it was among the top three: Nearly 12 percent of its residents are diabetic, compared to about 5 percent of westside residents. Still, the southside saw a near-2 percent decline in its incidence rate since 2007.

According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), the mortality rate for the condition in the U.S. is relatively low: In 2007, it contributed to more than 231,000 deaths. But it takes a sizable health toll: For one, it contributes to conditions like heart disease and disease of the nervous system, and can lead to amputated limbs.

Additionally, 67 percent of people with self-reported diabetes have high blood pressure, and diabetics are up to four times more likely to have a stroke. It's also the leading cause of kidney failure and new blindness among adults of all ages.

There's also the financial burden: Diabetes is estimated to cost the county more than $6 billion a year in medical expenses, and the country upwards of a whopping $174 billion.

World Diabetes Day was created by the International Diabetes Federation in 1991 "in response to growing concerns about the escalating health threat" posed by diabetes, according to the event's official website – and, as the numbers indicate, that health threat is still stark today.

This year's theme is "Diabetes Education and Prevention," the importance of which is becoming ever clearer with the rise of diabetes among American youth: A recent study found that type 1 and type 2 diabetes increased 23 and 21 percent, respectively, among kids in the U.S. between 2001 and 2009. Some good news: Management of the disease among youth has improved over the past few decades, with the mortality rate among young diabetics dropping 61 percent since 1969.

Research indicates that surgery may be diabetics' best bet in terms of treating their disease and having a complete remission. But surgery's expensive, and many living in South L.A., where about 41 percent of residents make $20,000 or less annually, can't afford that. For them, say health providers, exercise, diet and medication are the best way to manage the disease.

If obesity continues to develop at its current pace in California, the Trust for America's Health estimates it'll play a role in approximately 6 million new cases of diabetes in the state over the next 20 years.

Photo by Megan Morris via Flickr Creative Commons.

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