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Being overweight creates a heavy risk for diabetes


NEW YORK (CNN) -- An estimated 16 million Americans have diabetes, but according to a government estimate, more than 5 million of these -- many of them overweight -- are unaware they have the disease.

Inattention to diabetes can be mean damaged vision, stroke, and kidney failure as well as early death, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.

Diabetes "shortens average life expectancy by up to 15 years," wrote the authors of a congressionally mandated study, "Conquering Diabetes -- A Strategic Plan for the 21st Century." These experts found that diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure, blindness in adults and amputations in the United States.

Researchers report that about 75 percent of Americans with diabetes weigh too much, a condition that stresses the heart and other organs.

"When you're overweight, your pancreas -- the organ that makes insulin and regulates your blood sugar -- has to work harder," said Dr. Steven B. Heymsfield of St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center. "And as a result, in some people who are predisposed, the organ fails, and that allows blood sugar to go out of control and leads to diabetes."

A spokesperson for the American Diabetes Association said, "In diabetes, there’s too much glucose in the blood. Glucose is a kind of sugar that your body’s cells use for fuel. When glucose builds up in the blood instead of going into cells, it can cause two problems -- right away, your cells may be starved for energy; over time, high glucose levels may hurt your eyes, kidneys, nerves, or heart."

Exercise and diet to maintain healthy weight can ward off diabetes for some people predisposed to the disease, and for those with diabetes, losing weight can delay or stop the toll of organ damage, said Bernadette King of the diabetes association.

Anyone 45 and older should be tested annually for diabetes, and if normal, tested at three-year intervals, she said. The association recommends testing at a younger age or more frequently for people at higher risk, including those who are overweight, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol and those who are African American, Hispanic American and Native American.

For weight loss, Cathy Nonas, a registered dietician with St. Luke's-Roosevelt, said dietary "fiber slows down the way we metabolize glucose, so that it gives us a more even level of energy so that we don't have such high glucose levels."

Exercise also "makes the body more sensitive to the actions of insulin, thus lowering the requirement for insulin to maintain your blood sugar normal," said Dr. Heymsfield.

A new study has found that the diet drug Xenical, which retards digestion of fat in foods, can help people with diabetes who can't control their weight with exercise and diet. The study was supported by a research grant from Hoffman-Larouche, manufacturers of Xenical.

CNN Medical Correspondent Steve Salvatore contributed to this report.

Diabetes risk test online
American Diabetes Association
"Conquering Diabetes -- A Strategic Plan for the 21st Century"
"Methods for Voluntary Weight Loss and Control" from the National Institutes of Health

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