The number of American Indians with diabetes continues to rise despite aggressive prevention programs, but still there is cause for optimism, health officials said Tuesday.
Studies show without doubt that lifestyle changes -- diet, exercise and weight loss -- significantly reduce diabetes risk in all populations, speakers said at a national conference on preventing diabetes in Indians. Experts project that a quarter of all non-Hispanic whites and 50 percent of all people of color born in 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetimes, said Dr. Richard Hamman of the University of Colorado's Department of Preventive Medicine. American Indians lead all racial and ethnic groups in incidence of diabetes and are more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to get the disease. "Clearly, Houston, we have a problem," Hamman told more than 500 people who came from across the country to network and share best practices. The conference is sponsored by the Indian Health Service and the Oklahoma Native American EXPORT Center. Hamman reviewed medical studies of the effectiveness of various diabetes prevention programs. There is preliminary evidence that certain medications may work and conclusive evidence that weight loss, a low-fat diet and exercise do, he said. Meeting all three goals reduces the incidence of diabetes by almost 90 percent, and the effect occurs in every racial, ethnic and age group, Hamman said. One study suggested for every kilogram (2.2 pounds) of weight loss, there is a 16 percent reduction in diabetes risk, Hamman said. "So someone doesn't have to go out and become this tiny little person. Just a little weight loss significantly reduced the incidence," he said.