The Diabetes Deal

What's going on with our blood sugar?

I subscribe to way too many WebMD e-newsletters. Every day I get emails about keeping my vision sharp or navigating flu season. But one topic’s been filling my inbox more and more lately, and that’s diabetes.

Local and national news sources alike are turning the spotlight on this disease that now affects more than twenty-five million Americans.

So what’s with all the chatter? We’ve known for a while that diabetes is a serious health problem that deserves our attention, but why are we hearing more about it now?

For one thing, the number of people with diabetes is growing, and it’s costing us lives and money. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the number of adults diagnosed with the condition tripled between 1980 and 2010. It is the seventh-leading cause of death at both the state level and across the nation, and if these rates keep going, the CDC warns that as many as one in three adults could have diabetes by 2050.

The prospect of a nation where one third of its adults are diabetic is already alarming, but when you consider that the total direct and indirect costs stemming from diabetes were a cool $174 billion across the country in 2007, the latest year data is available, it’s even scarier.

Among adults in Wisconsin, the prevalence of diabetes over the past several years has increased more than thirteen percent, according to a report from the Wisconsin Diabetes Prevention and Control Program, part of the state’s Department of Health Services.

While those numbers don’t bode well, the good news is that we as a state are still faring better than others, and Dane is the county with the lowest prevalence in the state. Still, the number of diabetes cases both here and nationally continues to grow, and so too do the number of programs that seek to reverse these trends.

One such program operating in Wisconsin is the Diabetes Leadership Initiative, or DLI. Led by  the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors,  or NACDD, the DLI was launched in 2011 to promote early detection and management of diabetes complications, which sometimes do not receive as much attention as the condition itself. Wisconsin is one of four states where this initiative has been implemented. Each state could choose specific areas of focus that fall under the DLI’s overall  detection and management goals.

“Something that we are able to look at here is chronic kidney disease,” says epidemiologist Jenny Camponeschi, who has conducted extensive research for the Wisconsin Diabetes Prevention and Control Program and is part of the collaborative team working on the DLI.

Chronic kidney disease—a common and serious diabetes complication—was an obvious choice as part of Wisconsin’s focus because of the existing research, programs and infrastructure that were already dedicated to it in the state, says Leah Ludlum, the former director of the Wisconsin Diabetes Prevention and Control Program who has also worked with the the DLI.

The Wisconsin initiative is partnering with three UW Health family practice clinics in Dane County and with the Wisconsin Research and Education Network. “We really tried to listen to the providers in the clinics to see what they actually needed to help take better care of their patients,” Ludlum says.

The collaboration between state health officials, clinicians and diabetes experts at the local and national levels has allowed this initiative to grow, and Ludlum says the NACDD has been “extremely supportive” of the work here in Wisconsin.

The initiative also has a broader aim to educate the public on what they can do to prevent or delay the onset of complications and manage the condition if they’ve been diagnosed.

“We’re trying to increase the levels of awareness no mater what complications exist,” she says. 

Grace Edquist is associate/web editor of Madison Magazine.

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