Diabetes: the invisible epidemic not enough are talking about
When tornado sirens go off or severe storm warnings are issued, they trigger a series of alarms and alerts that motivate people into urgent action. Time is of the essence and the information is heeded with careful attention.
But dangerously, diabetes, a disease that 3,800 Americans are diagnosed with each day, has not triggered anything close to a similar response. There are no breaking news updates, no alarms being sounded, no quick response to stem the momentum of the disease. Diabetes has become the epidemic that is the invisible elephant in the room.
Yet it should be impossible not to notice that it’s there — it kills more Americans every year than breast cancer and HIV/AIDS combined, and it is a gateway to a myriad of other deadly health issues. But few people are acknowledging it, much less addressing it.
And because it has lacked the societal sense of urgency, funding, research for a cure and education for self-management have also lagged, leading to a crisis that has now spun out of control. In fact, diabetes has skyrocketed six-fold over the past 30 years, affecting nearly 30 million Americans, not including another 86 million who have prediabetes. Of those 86 million, more than 77 million don’t know that they have it.
While as a doctor my primary concern is the human toll this disease takes, make no mistake, there is a steep financial cost that we all are paying. In fact, one out of every $5 spent in health care in the United States is now spent on those living with diabetes. That’s because the cost of care for a person with this disease is 2.3 times higher than for a person without it. The annual national price tag is $322 billion in direct medical costs and lost productivity.
One would think that these facts would trigger major funding for research, but no such investment is being made. In fact, even though there are 30 times the number of people living with diabetes as living with HIV/AIDS, only $34.71 is being spent by the National Institutes of Health on research per person with diabetes. This is a paltry sum compared to more than $2,500 per patient with HIV/AIDS.
Something must be done. If we want to mitigate the enormous human and financial costs our country continues to pay, we need our government and society to step up and address the epidemic.
You may have diabetes or prediabetes, but even if you don’t, you most likely have a family member or loved one who does. We as a nation owe it to them, and to ourselves, to make this epidemic visible and a top priority in both government and society.
This November, during American Diabetes Month, would you join millions across the country and raise your voice to help increase the sense of urgency about this disease? Would you help ensure that we have the best research, education and treatments available by reaching out to your state and congressional leadership? You can add your voice to thousands of others bringing awareness and action to this epidemic and helping ensure that it’s no longer the elephant in the room. Together we can end this disease and give it a place in history.