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NBA star Shaquille O'Neal says his fight against diabetes is personal

O'Neal has watched close family members struggle to manage the disease

Nearly 26 million Americans have diabetes, and another 79 million are pre-diabetic

Watch NBA on TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal on CNN’s “Sanjay Gupta MD,” Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET and Sunday at 7:30 a.m. ET.

(CNN) —  

It’s been more than a year since NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal retired from the court, and he says he doesn’t miss it. The basketball champ has his eye on a new target: diabetes.

“It’s alarming,” says O’Neal. “We need to come together to try to help prevent the disease and stay healthy.”

Nearly 26 million Americans have diabetes, and another 79 million Americans are considered pre-diabetic, according to the American Diabetes Association. Approximately two thirds of diabetics eventually die from heart disease or a stroke.

For O’Neal, the fight against diabetes is personal. He was drawn to finding a solution after watching close family members struggle to manage the disease.

He’s now focusing his energy on preventing people from developing diabetes in the first place.

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“Childhood obesity is getting worse,” he says. “People need to know the problem isn’t going to go away unless we take control now.”

O’Neal spent years taking flak about his fluctuating weight throughout his 19-year NBA career. But the self-proclaimed “freak of nature” says there’s always been a method to his madness.

“[Critics] would automatically say, ‘He’s out of shape,’ but I wanted to just relax during the summer, hang out with the family, and then work my way into basketball-playing shape,” says O’Neal. “I’ve never been obese. Even now my body fat is only 13%.”

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Today, the 7-foot tall O’Neal says his current weight stays around 350, “plus 10,” but admits it’s not easy to stay at a healthy weight and reduce his risk of developing diabetes.

O’Neal says he limits the amount of carbohydrates in his diet, eats a salad for lunch everyday and only indulges in an occasional brownie, his vice. He also clocks one hour of cardiovascular activity each day.

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“It’s a different world we live in now,” says O’Neal. “I always urge people to eat healthy and ask them to try to help your kids get exercise. I stress the importance of keeping them in shape. It’s not about the physical appearance but for their health.”

In addition to raising awareness on how to prevent diabetes through a healthy lifestyle, O’Neal says he also wants to help diabetics better manage their disease. He recently invested in a product called glucose quick sticks, which he describes as a healthier alternative for diabetics when their blood sugar is low.