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Diabetes: "Silent Epidemic" Among Veterans In Utah And Nation

March 18, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY - Veterans in Utah may be interested in knowing that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is dedicating resources to better manage diabetes, which the VA calls a "silent epidemic." Type 2 diabetes affects almost 20 percent of veterans who use VA health care, compared to about eight percent of the general population.

According to Dr. Timothy O'Leary, acting director at the VA Office of Research and Development, diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, kidney disease and amputation in the U.S., and up to 80 percent of patients with diabetes will face heart attack or stroke.

"While diabetes is silent as it initially presents, and needs a blood test or a urine test, its consequences are not silent at all," the doctor warned.

O'Leary said group meetings are proving to be a successful method to help people keep blood sugar controlled. The VA has also found that having veterans use pedometers encourages more physical activity, which can help keep diabetes under control.

Most research shows that successful management of the disease isn't something people do alone, with O'Leary pointing to video-conferencing as another tool that has helped reduce the rate of physical disabilities.

It can be effective "sometimes even delivered through the computer or the telephone by a coach or a counselor far away, which can be important if you live in a rural area or you have transportation problems," he said.

March 25 is American Diabetes Association Alert Day, when everyone is encouraged to take a risk assessment online. Known risk factors for diabetes include a family history, being overweight, being over the age of 40, suffering diabetes during pregnancy, and a lack of physical activity. O'Leary said however that the disease shows up in people without those risk factors, too, and there has been research indicating that exposure to environmental toxins can also trigger the disease.

That online risk assessment tool is at Diabetes.org.

Troy Wilde, Public News Service - UT