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Half of West Virginians struggle to control their blood sugar

By LEAH NESTOR

The Exponent Telegram

CLARKSBURG, W.Va.  — Regardless of intervention programs, the number of people with diabetes and prediabetes in West Virginia has increased to the point that more than half the population is losing control of their blood sugar.

Interventions in the state to slow the growing numbers include the West Virginia Diabetes Prevention Program, Dining with Diabetes, Diabetes and Hypertension Self Management and Diabetes Self Management Education.

Dr. Ranjita Misra is a professor and Master of Public Health program coordinator for WVU’s Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences School of Public Health.

Misra said interventions are not enough. When she assumed her current post in 2012, Misra said the state’s rate of diabetes was 12 percent, whereas now it’s 15.3 percent.

Citing statistics from the American Diabetes Association, Misra said there are 518,000 West Virginia residents with prediabetes, or 35.9 percent of the population, and 15.3 percent with diabetes, or 255,695 people.

“What is most frightening is that the non-Hispanic whites nationally have the lowest prevalence of diabetes, and West Virginia is 97 percent non-Hispanic whites,” Misra said. “What is it about West Virginia that the white population that is nationally having lower rates have such high rates in West Virginia?”

She added that about 48,000 people don’t know they have the disease. They go to the doctor for something else when it is discovered, she said.

A contributing factor to that statistic could be the quiet onset of the disease, indicated registered nurse Beth Conch, director of education at United Hospital Center.

“Diabetes is one of those diseases that you can have for a while and it really doesn’t do much to you,” Conch said. “It sneaks up on you. It makes you tired. It robs your energy. You just don’t know what’s going on for a while.”

She remembered when Harrison County was so high in diabetes that it was known as the diabetes capital of the world. While that is not true anymore, she said that number goes up pretty much exponentially, continuously.

Conch said denial plays a big part in the lack of prevention techniques and management.

“Yes, we know that obesity and sedentary lifestyle can lead to diabetes, but I think we all sit on that cusp saying, ‘But not me … I’ll be all right,’” she said.

Being aware of a disease and actually avoiding what causes it are very different, she said.

“In order to prevent diabetes we have to take a personal responsibility for our health, and that includes proper nutrition and proper exercise,” Conch said.

Misra added that people here don’t have the skill sets, and they don’t know how to change their lifestyles.

Both Conch and Misra considered the Appalachian culture as part of the cause of the increase in the disease.

Misra said she has experienced that religion and fear of doctors played roles in why people avoid the doctor in rural India, Mexico and West Virginia. The big dinners and family get-togethers around food are another aspect of the Appalachian culture Conch mentioned that contributes to the prevalence of the disease.

“It’s hard to move away from the things we’ve learned that become second nature to us,” Conch said.

With an increase in poverty throughout the state, a culture of need for pre-packaged foods has risen, Conch indicated.

“People don’t buy things that are going to waste. They’re very cautious with what they spend their money on,” she said. “They’re going to buy things that are prepared, that don’t spoil, that are canned, that are easy to make.”

Another concern Misra had was the geography of the state.

“For example, if you are going to do a program at Mon General or Ruby or Charleston Medical Center, that may not be enough. Is it reaching people who don’t have access to care? Is it reaching people who are in the remote areas?” Misra asked.

Programs in semi-urban areas cannot reach the rural people in places such as Wyoming, McDowell and Logan counties, Misra said.

However, Conch said just because diabetes prevention is taught doesn’t mean that lesson will be embraced.

“Sometimes people will get diabetes no matter what,” Misra said. “But delaying the early onset — like instead of getting it at 30 they get it at 40 — imagine how much better their quality of life will be, how much money they’ll save in medical costs.”

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