"The greatest morbidity and mortality from the disease are seen in the oldest age groups," said Connie Crawley, a University of Georgia extension nutrition specialist. "But diabetes is developing at much younger ages, so disability and death may become more common in younger populations soon."
A recent report by the American Diabetes Association and the Georgia Department of Human Resources gave grave statistics about the seriousness of diabetes in the state:
"Unfortunately, people with diabetes don't seem to be getting the care they need," Crawley said.
A survey of Georgians with diabetes found that only 6 percent reported meeting the minimal standards for routine medical care.
"Only 25 percent of adults had heard of the hemoglobin A1c test, which is the best laboratory test to determine how well diabetes is under control," she said.
The lack of care lands many Georgia diabetes sufferers in the hospital. In 1997, diabetes was the primary cause of more than 12,600 hospitalizations, totaling 63,000 days in the hospital (equal to 173 years) and costing more than $99 million.
"These figures don't even include hospitalizations from other health problems like kidney disease, high blood pressure, amputations and cardiovascular disease which are more likely to occur in those who have diabetes," Crawley said.
Statistics show that the highest incidence of diabetes tends to be in the central and southwestern part of the state. "I believe part of the reason ... may be demographics," Crawley said. "The population is older and there are more people from the highest-risk ethnic groups, namely African-Americans and now Hispanics."
The report speculates that the increase in diabetes may be directly related to the increase in obesity and inactivity in Georgians.
"We do know that those who exercise regularly and keep their weight down have less risk even if they have a family history of the disease," Crawley said.
"Obviously, in Georgia, diabetes is a serious, common and costly disease," Crawley said. "New research has shown that with better control, death and disability from diabetes can be reduced.
"But it will require directing more money and effort into weight-control and physical-activity efforts for all age groups who don't have diabetes," she said, "and intense diabetes education and care for those who have the disease or who may be at risk for developing it."
(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)