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Friday, December 3, 2021

‘I had to change my life’: Diabetes on the rise in younger Americans

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Dy’Ann Jones is a third-generation diabetic. Her grandmother was diagnosed in her mid-60s, her mother in her late 50s. Jones, however, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes when she was just 27 years old.

“I obviously knew it ran in my family,” said Jones, who is now 34. “But I wasn’t expecting for it to show up till I got older.” At the time, Jones was living in Georgia. During a routine visit with her doctor, she brought up a problem she was having with dry skin that wasn’t improving. After a few more questions — “Are you usually thirsty and hungry?” and “Are you tired a lot?” — Jones’ doctor ordered a blood sugar test after a day of fasting. After two tests came back with higher than normal results, Jones was diagnosed with diabetes.

“I had to change my life,” Jones said. “I had to start taking classes at a community center and had to follow a diet plan, but it was hard.”

It wasn’t until a high-risk pregnancy when Jones was 29 that she began taking her diagnosis seriously. After her son was born following a cesarean section, Jones knew she wanted to focus on her health.

“I want to be around for my son,” Jones said.

This phenomenon, younger people developing Type 2 diabetes, is relatively new. Dr. Zeb Saeed, an endocrinologist at IU Health, said the rise of diabetes in younger patients correlates with the obesity epidemic in America over the past few decades.

Historically, a child presenting symptoms of diabetes would be assumed to have Type 1 diabetes — an autoimmune condition — because it was rare for children and young adults to have Type 2 diabetes. Now, Saeed said there’s a surge of pre-pubescent children being diagnosed with Type 2. This form of diabetes is caused by insulin resistance as a result of obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 90% to 95% of diabetes cases in the United States stem from obesity and an inactive lifestyle.

Younger patients being diagnosed with diabetes may mean an increased risk for other health problems as they get older.

“Two things influence complications: how long you’ve had diabetes and how well-controlled your diabetes has been,” Saeed said. “If you have diabetes over a long period of your life, then you’re going to have more complications if you’ve had blood sugars outside of the normal range more of your life than not.”

The most common complications stemming from Type 2 diabetes are blindness, kidney disease and nerve damage that could lead to amputations.

The good news is people can take steps to manage and control their diabetes. Changes in diet and physical activity, as well as working with a doctor to monitor blood sugar, can cause diabetes to go into remission.

In five years, Jones has lost 75 pounds by cutting out fast food and soda and exercising multiple times a week. Though she’s still on medication — the anti-diabetic drug Metformin — she was able to reduce her dosage from three times a day to one.

“It’s been hard,” Jones said, “but worth it.”

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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