By Valentina Palladino
In my experience, college students live in their own little bubbles when it comes to health. The usual suspects strike the most interest in students— sex, drugs, weight, depression, among others. Maybe college students’ selective interest is warranted because of the bubble-like atmosphere of campuses; however, I am very concerned that students choose to be unaware of “real world” health problems, such as cancer and heart disease, unless these problems have somehow already affected them. Especially since a huge health risk, diabetes, already has its foot in our nation’s door.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report stating that the number of Americans with diabetes could triple by 2050, with one in every three individuals suffering from the disease. Currently, one in ten Americans lives with diabetes.
Medical advancements and treatment options are allowing those already diagnosed with diabetes to live longer. This contributes to the projecting of such high numbers for the future. Other contributing factors include the obesity epidemic and the increase of at-risk for diabetes minorities, such as African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans.
The key to understanding our nation’s diabetes problem is first understanding diabetes. Type 1 and Type 2 are two varieties of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes occurs when your immune system attacks cells in the pancreas, the organ that makes insulin, and hinder its insulin production. This causes sugar to build up in your bloodstream. Type 1 diabetics are usually diagnosed young and given insulin regularly to treat the disease.
Type 2 diabetes is the kicker. It makes up 85 to 90 percent of the nation’s diabetic population. Type 2 diabetics lose sensitivity to insulin and lose their ability to produce insulin all together. Sugar then builds up in the bloodstream. Type 2 diabetes leads to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, among other diseases.
The most shocking part of the epidemic is that Type 2 diabetes, which is typically caused by obesity, can be prevented. While new medicine has allowed those with diabetes a chance at longer lives, our country must work to stop new cases of diabetes before it spreads. Healthy habits and daily physical activity may seem like baby steps and the robotic answer for everything health related, but with diabetes, simple things can be the difference between a life-long illness and a healthy life. According to Ann Albright, the director of the CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation, said in an article on Business Week’s website that our country cannot afford to ignore diabetes or treat it lightly anymore.
“These are alarming numbers that show how critical it is to change the course of type 2 diabetes,” Albright told Business Weekly. “Successful programs to improve lifestyle choices on healthy eating and physical activity must be made more widely available, because the stakes are too high and the personal toll too devastating to fail.” Diabetes could potentially be one of the most harmful illnesses our country has ever faced. So what? What does diabetes mean for the typical college student? Ashley Calarco, a sophomore graphic design major at Syracuse University, doesn’t think diabetes is a pressing matter for college students.
“Honestly no, I don’t think college students think about diabetes unless they or someone they know has it,” Calarco said. “It’s one of those things you associate with older people, so I don’t think many people worry about it now.”
We may not be thinking about it, but diabetes is all around us. Statistics from the American Diabetes Association show that 23.5 million people of ages 20 or older have diabetes, and a staggering 2 million younger teens are pre-diabetic.
College students living with diabetes are faced with unique challenges. College diabetics have to watch the foods they eat even more meticulously to stay healthy than their peers. Alcohol is another roller-coaster ride. While alcohol can cause blood sugar levels to drop drastically, sugary mixed drinks can easily cause those levels to spike. Both are problems because diabetics need to keep their sugar levels constant. Finding support on campus is important for diabetic students, so they don’t feel left out when their friends order pizza and take shots at 2 a.m.
Calarco remembers the hardships an ex-boyfriend of hers had when he was diagnosed with diabetes.
“When my ex would go out for runs, he would always carry sugar tablets and extra insulin,” she said. “It was scary to have to learn how to give him a shot in the thigh in case he passed out because his blood sugar level was too high.”
Bottom line: diabetes isn’t going away. If Americans, including college students, don’t step up, shape up, and get fit, this disease could debilitate future generations and lead to serious health risks for us and our children. Here are some tips that college students, diabetics and non-diabetics alike, can use to stay healthy and happy on campus.
Stock your fridge the right way – If you are diabetic, make sure you have healthy snacks on hand in your refrigerator in case you need a sugar boost – and let your roommates know which snacks are specifically for you.
Get involved – If you know someone with diabetes, or just want to show support, take the initiative and go to the health center. See what services are provided to support those with diabetes, and know the procedures in case you ever need to use them.
Get your half hour of exercise in every day – To maintain your body’s production of insulin, make sure you get at least a half hour of physical activity in everyday. Diabetic or not, it is important to regulate your body and keep it happy. Take an extra lap around the quad or walk up the stairs to your dorm room. It makes a difference in the end.
Good sweets, bad sweets – When satisfying your sweet tooth, go for sugary fruits instead of candy bars. Fruits like blueberries, bananas, melons, and grapes contain soluble fiber and are a better source of sugar than processed candies, and they also provide you with antioxidants and vitamins to help other parts of your body work well.