Diabetes is a metabolic disease where the patient experiences high blood glucose levels that, over time, damage the organs of the body and the neurological system. Long-term, diabetes leads to severe health complications, including limb amputation, blindness, kidney and heart failure, cognitive dysfunction, and death. Caused by a lack of the hormone insulin necessary to convert sugars and starches into energy, diabetes is thought to have its roots in a combination of factors, including genetic predisposition, a sedentary lifestyle and obesity, certain medications like statins, and other medical conditions such as hypothyroidism or certain cancers.
Types of Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes, generally found in children and young adults, is a genetic disorder where the insulin producing cells of the pancreas have ceased functioning. In Type 2 diabetes, the body becomes insulin resistant or produces inadequate insulin. Found primarily in adults, 90% of patients have Type 2 diabetes. Gestational diabetes is found in 18% of pregnancies and is thought to be a result of insulin resistance produced by placental hormones blocking the action of the body’s insulin, leading to hyperglycemia. Type 1 diabetes is found in only 5% of total diabetes patients, and gestational diabetes accounts for another 5% of patients.
Type 2 Diabetes: The Colluding Factors of Diet and Exercise
The communications and travel technologies that enable people to work and communicate across vast distances have led directly to a sedentary lifestyle. Modern technology has spurred the evolution of medical science, leading to medications, treatments, and cures that have alleviated many catastrophic diseases. However, this technological advancement has come at a cost; people have decreased the amount of routine physical activity they engage in, and the foods they consume are highly processed and heavy in fats and sugars. For most people leisure is characterized by activities that involve visual consumption (TV) in conjunction with oral consumption (sodas, popcorn, pizza, and other high fat high sugar “snacks”). These diet and exercise patterns are leading to chronic health problems that are serious and costly, including an increasing incidence of Type 2 diabetes.
The consumption of highly refined or processed sugar and high fructose corn syrup in particular, when coupled with a sedentary lifestyle, lead directly to obesity in both children and adults. Obesity is the single most significant cause of Type 2 diabetes. Prime culprits in the rising rate of obesity are the sugar-sweetened beverages of which Americans and others around the world are so fond of. It is well known that over-consumption of sodas, energy drinks, fruit drinks (excluding 100% fruit juice), and other sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) leads to weight gain and tooth decay, but little attention has been paid among the lay population to their role in both causing and worsening Type 2 diabetes.
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Type 2 Diabetes and Sugar-Sweetened Beverages
Several recent studies have focused on the interrelationship between SSBs and Type 2 diabetes, finding that as the consumption of SSBs rises, the risk of Type 2 diabetes does as well. “Findings … show a clear link between SSB consumption and risk of … type 2 diabetes…. Participants in the highest category of SSB intake had a 26% greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes than participants in the lowest category of intake….Because SSBs have been shown to raise blood glucose and insulin concentrations rapidly and dramatically … and are often consumed in large amounts, they contribute to a high dietary glycemic load. High glycemic load diets are known to induce glucose intolerance and insulin resistance particularly among overweight individuals.” This number is greatly concerning, particularly as the consumption of SSBs has risen globally in the past 40 years: “in the United States, intake of these beverages, which includes the full range of soft drinks, fruit drinks, energy drinks, and vitamin water drinks, increased from 3.9% of calories in the late 1970s to 9.2% in 2001, representing a 3-fold increase in intake…. All age groups in Mexico consume ˜10% of their total energy intake from SSBs.”
These statistics are alarming. When coupled with the numbers on childhood obesity, communities from doctors to parents are clearly facing a health crisis of daunting proportions. Obese children grow into obese adults, who often become diabetic adults, potentially overwhelming the health and social service provision systems. Without good education about the interrelationship between SSBs and other high sugar low nutrient foods and Type 2 diabetes, we could be witnessing the beginning of a global pandemic of staggering proportions.
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circ.ahajournals.org/content/121/11/1356.full, retrieved 2/19/2014.