Reducing the Risk of Diabetes

Dr. Robert Harrison, professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Rochester in New York, talks with Farai Chideya about practical steps individuals can take to reduce their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Dr. Robert Harrison is a professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Rochester in New York. Thanks for being with us.

Dr. ROBERT HARRISON (University of Rochester): Thank you for having me.

CHIDEYA: So first off, what warning signs do you need to look for if you think you or someone in your family might have type II diabetes?

Dr. HARRISON: Well, the symptoms of diabetes include excessive thirst, excessive urination, but very often not enough for an individual to be alerted. So in most cases we recommend - particularly in people who are at high risk, who have first degree relatives who have diabetes - that they be tested by their physicians at least every one to three years.

CHIDEYA: Should black families especially be on the lookout?

Dr. HARRISON: African-Americans are at increased risk for diabetes, almost half again as much as other populations. This seems to be particularly related to an increase in obesity in the black population, particularly the black female population. And so I guess the short answer is yes.

CHIDEYA: So what's being done on a national level and a grassroots level to change things? I mean people, including myself, you have a hard time changing the patterns you fall into. This is talking about really basic behavior.

Dr. HARRISON: Well, it's important to recognize how powerful recognition of the problem is. For instance, 20 years ago hypertension wasn't recognized as the problem that it is today. The medications weren't there. Physician awareness wasn't there. And the difference between 20 years ago and now in the management of hypertension is miraculous.

A similar thing is occurring with smoking, where public awareness, physician awareness; doctors smoke - almost no doctor smoke nowadays, and the American population's smoking has decreased as well.

So the more aware we are of high important exercise and good nutrition is, the more our physicians and other healthcare providers give that information, the more effective we are likely to be. But it is difficult to do.

CHIDEYA: And also there's a question of what do you have access to. We just featured a segment with a woman named Majora Carter, who runs a group called Sustainable South Bronx, and they basically are trying get parks in the South Bronx, saying, you know, people don't get enough exercise because there's not facilities. And in some inner cities too - and not just inner cities - there's not really many places to go buy fresh fruits and vegetables. How important are the environmental factors in that level?

Dr. HARRISON: Well, clearly they are important. You didn't mention just having a safe place to walk.

CHIDEYA: Yeah.

Dr. HARRISON: It's - this kind of a chronic condition is based in how our society functions, and without the safe neighborhoods, without inner city markets that provide the kind of food that's needed, it is going to be very difficult. It's a general public health issue that has to be addressed.

CHIDEYA: We're just about out of time, but is there any final word for something people could do if they already think they might have diabetes but they're not sure?

Dr. HARRISON: There's a program called the 20 - 10,000-step program that points out that you don't have to go and sweat to get the kind of exercise that's needed to be effective in diabetes prevention. Walking does it. Walking around the house does it. Walking during the ads while you're watching television does it. And the number of steps you take during the day is more important than how many steps you take at any one time.

CHIDEYA: Well, doctor, we're going to have to end it there. Thank you so much.

Dr. HARRISON: Thank you. Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Dr. Robert Harrison is professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Rochester, and he joined us from member station WXXI in Rochester, New York.

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