Taking on Type 2 Diabetes

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Medical contributor Dr. Hilda Hutcherson talks about what can be done to help some prevent type 2 diabetes and a new treatment that could help thousands.

ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon, and this is NEWS AND NOTES.

According to a recent New York Times series, diabetes has become a health crisis in black America. The tragedy is that for most diabetics, the disease could have been prevented. Earlier in the show we heard from Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee about his personal battle with diabetes

NPR's Farai Chideya recently spoke with NEWS AND NOTES medical contributor, Dr. Hilda Hutcherson, about what can be done to prevent and treat the disease.

FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:

Simply and briefly speaking, what is diabetes two and how is it different from diabetes one?

Dr. HILDA HUTCHERSON (Medical Contributor, NEWS AND NOTES): Well diabetes type one occurs when your immune system destroys the insulin producing cells in your pancreas. With diabetes type two, you either don't make enough insulin or the insulin that you do make, your body can't use effectively.

CHIDEYA: Are doctors trying to treat diabetes two by going to the core issue of obesity, or is the treatment more about treating the disease once it's developed?

Ms. HUTCHERSON: I think the emphasis today is on treating the disease once it develops. And what we need is more emphasis on prevention. As you said, this is a preventable disease in most cases. Only approximately 10 percent of diabetes Type II is of the inherited form.

CHIDEYA: In addition to people who are overweight being susceptible to diabetes II, there are also ethnic linkages. African Americans, Asians and Latinos are all increasingly susceptible. Why is that?

Ms. HUTCHERSON: Well, we know that African Americans are twice as likely to develop Type two diabetes. And we think it's because of the higher incidence of obesity in our communities.

CHIDEYA: Now, if it was that easy to lose weight, we would be in a situation where everyone in this country would be healthy. But clearly when you're talking the majority of American adults being overweight, it's a persistent issue. And when you add in class to that, you add in the fact that in a lot of neighborhoods there aren't even grocery stores within walking distance. How are people supposed to deal with these underlying causes?

Ms. HUTCHERSON: This is so true. When you look in lower social economic class communities, what you find is that there are few grocery stores that stock healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables; and it's much easier to go the local fast food store and buy high fat food.

CHIDEYA: Let's go to treatment. You mention that most of the focus right now is on treatment and not prevention. There was a new drug just approved, a new inhalable form of insulin approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Is that going to make it easier to treat diabetes among adults who get Type two diabetes?

Ms. HUTCHERSON: Oh, yes. This is a very exciting advance in the treatment of diabetes. And you can inhale this powdered form of insulin and it's rapidly absorbed into your bloodstream through you lungs. Unfortunately, many diabetics will still need to give themselves injections periodically for long term coverage.

CHIDEYA: Now, we've noted earlier that diabetes can be completely debilitating for some people, loss of eye, loss of limbs. How does it get to that point?

Ms. HUTCHERSON: Well, one of the problems is that a third of the people with diabetes don't actually know that they have it. And they may not make that discovery until they've already had some irreversible damage done to their bodies. The other problem is that many of the people who know that they have diabetes are not as informed as they should be about these potential risks, and how to prevent themselves from getting these complications from the disease.

CHIDEYA: How then do you go about counseling people to be advocates for their health in a way that makes sure that at least if they can't prevent diabetes, they could catch it?

Ms. HUTCHERSON: I think there needs to be a major public awareness campaign. And we need to go directly into the community and perhaps through the churches, through the schools, getting the information out so that people know that they need to go and get tested. And once they get tested, they need to make sure that they are getting the medical care that they need to prevent themselves from getting these complications.

CHIDEYA: And finally, for people who are already suffering from diabetes and who may have just learned that there is inhalable form of insulin coming out, what should they do to approach their healthcare professionals?

Ms. HUTCHERSON: Well, they need to go their physicians and make them aware that they've heard about the new treatment for diabetes, and ask their physicians whether this is something that's appropriate for their management.

CHIDEYA: Dr. Hilda Hutcherson of Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center is News and Notes' medical expert. Thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. HUTCHERSON: Thank you

ED GORDON, host:

That was NPR's Farai Chideya.

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