Diabetes on the Rise in L.A. County

A glucose meter used to help people manage their diabetes. | Photo: Alan Levine/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Public health officials said today that nearly 10 percent of adults in Los Angeles County have diabetes.

Between 1997 and 2011, the percentage of diabetics rose from 6.6 percent to 9.9 percent of the local population, about 685,000 people, according to a report from the county's Department of Public Health.

Nearly one in four L.A. County residents 65 or older has diabetes, the report showed.

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"Type 2 diabetes accounts for more than 90 percent of all diabetes cases in the county with obesity as the primary preventable risk factor," said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, public health director. "Type 2 diabetes can be prevented or controlled by choosing smaller portions, drinking fewer sugary drinks and exercising."

Diabetes is the fifth leading cause of death in L.A. County, according to Fielding.

It is also one of the most costly chronic conditions, estimated as the case of more than $6 billion a year in medical expenses in Los Angeles County alone. Those with diabetes pay, on average, twice as much in medical expenses.

"This report illustrates a startling truth: the rate of diabetes in Los Angeles County is getting worse, not better," said Peter Braun, executive director of the American Diabetes Association, Los Angeles. "There is a desperate need for all community groups, health care providers, businesses, schools, and community leaders to take a hard look at how we can better leverage our resources and work together to address this devastating disease."

The prevalence of the disease was found highest among Latinos (13.5 percent) and blacks (12.4 percent). Those two groups also have the highest rates of obesity.

The incidence of the disease grew by 68 percent among Asian-Pacific Islanders from 1997 to 2011, and that group now shows the same rate of diabetes as the county's adult population as a whole.

Low-income adults are nearly twice as likely to have diabetes. There are three types of diabetes:

  • Type 1, where the body produces little to no insulin;
  • Type 2, where the body's cells resist the effects of insulin; and
  • gestational diabetes, which occurs during pregnancy.

Common symptoms include increased thirst or urination, extreme hunger, unusual weight loss and extreme fatigue and irritability. But in its early stages, people with diabetes may not have any symptoms.

Uncontrolled, the disease can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, and blindness. But it can be prevented by following a healthy meal plan and exercising 30-60 minutes most days.

"On a countywide level, we all need to work together to combat this alarming trend by ensuring access to high quality health care services, creating healthy environments that promote nutrition and physical activity and providing public education that empowers individuals and families to make healthier lifestyle choices."

The full report -- Trends in Diabetes: Time for Action -- can be read online.

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