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ALABAMA A&M UNIVERSITY, Ala.–Diabetes is a growing health concern across the nation and in the state of Alabama. The American Diabetes Association estimates that more than 30.3 million people or about 9.4% of the United States population is diabetic. Another 84.1 million Americans have prediabetes and are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

In Alabama, 18.3% or 878,400 people are diabetic. In fact, an article posted on AL.com stated that Alabama has one of the fastest growing rates of diabetes rates in the nation. In other words, diabetes is a major chronic disease that is not slowing down.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a group of metabolic diseases. In type 1 diabetes the body does not produce enough insulin. Insulin is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy. In type 2 diabetes a body is not using insulin properly.  As a result, patients are required to take insulin shots and/or pills, and to follow other important steps that will impact the whole family.

How Diabetes Impacts Families

When a person is diagnosed with diabetes they are advised to take medication, periodically check their blood sugar level, eat healthy meals, exercise regularly and make routine visits to a doctor. Diabetes impacts a person’s way of life, including family dynamics.

“Managing diabetes can be overwhelming for some people, so diabetics will need the support of family members and friends,” said Tamara Warren, Alabama Extension health and nutrition specialist.

Having enough money to treat the disease also impacts families and could raise stress levels. Stress is not good for any disease. So, family members must work together to not only manage the disease but to manage monthly household expenses. Some states or pharmaceutical companies offer drug assistance programs to offset high medical costs.

The good news is that most diabetics under a doctor’s care are educated on how to manage the disease. However, they may require special attention from family members if their blood sugar level gets too high or too low.

Eating a Healthy Diet

Eating healthy meals is important in managing most diet-related diseases. Eating healthy means baking, grilling, roasting, broiling or air frying protein. Vegetables should be eaten raw or steamed to maintain vitamins and nutrients. Diabetics should also avoid sugary drinks. Zero-calorie or very low-calorie drinks such as water, unsweetened teas, coffee, diet soda, or other low-calorie drinks and drink mixes are ideal.

Family and friends should encourage diabetics to eat a healthy diet. Family members will have to adjust to eating healthy as well, which is good for everyone along with routine physical activity.

The Importance of Physical Activity

Physical activity or exercise is important for everyone. Regular physical activity is beneficial in the management of diabetes because it helps to:

  • Lower high blood pressure or to lower the risk for high blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease or stroke
  • Burn calories to maintain or lose weight or to prevent obesity
  • Increase energy
  • Improve sleep
  • Reduce stress
  • Strengthen the heart, muscles, and bones
  • Improve blood circulation, joint flexibility, and balance

It is very important for diabetics, however, to frequently monitor their blood glucose (before, during, and after exercise) level to see how different activities affect them and to be prepared to treat themselves, if necessary.

“Diabetics are advised to have an emergency plan such as a snack or carbohydrate food, drink, or an insulin dose if their blood glucose level is too low or high. This plan should be shared with family and friends,” said Warren.

Get Educated

The best way to help someone living with a chronic disease is to get educated about the illness. Most diabetics will have to make healthy lifestyle changes. These changes will require encouragement, patience, and understanding from family and friends. Education will go a long way in helping your loved ones to make wise and informed decisions about their health.

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