A recent report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that in the 15 years from 1995 to 2010, no state's diabetes rate grew faster than Oklahoma's. Stop eating that chicken-fried steak for a moment and raise your hand if you were shocked by that news.
Oklahoma's high rate of diabetes, particularly the Type 2 variety, has been making headlines for years, and with good reason. Type 2 diabetes, which can lead to other serious health problems and prove fatal, was once found primarily in adults who grew more sedentary and gained weight as they aged.
Formerly called “adult onset diabetes,” Type 2 is now found frequently in children, who through the years have grown more obese than ever. The reasons for this are varied, but generally it boils down to too little exercise and too much unhealthy food.
The CDC says 10 percent of Oklahomans had diabetes in 2010, compared with 3 percent in 1995. Dr. Kenneth Copeland, director of the Harold Hamm Diabetes Center at the University of Oklahoma isn't sure the percentage jump is as great as the CDC figures represent; nonetheless, “it's a terrible problem and it is absolutely devastating to our economy, and we have to do something about it.”
But what? Since it opened in 2006, the Hamm facility has been a leader in diabetes research in this region. Just last month, the center got a $10.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. It was a renewal of a $12 million grant awarded to the center in 2006. Five junior researchers who had projects funded by that grant were able to obtain independent grant funding for further diabetes research.
The new funding will help researchers who are focused on cardiovascular disease, vascular damage, vision loss, tissue damage and other issues related to diabetes.
Meantime Oklahomans wouldn't cotton to nanny state efforts such as those in New York City, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed — and the city's health commission approved — rules limiting the size of soft drinks that can be sold in various establishments. Such rules allow Bloomberg and company to crow, but they're unlikely to make much of a dent in health outcomes.
Better diet and more exercise are most important. Initiatives have been undertaken in Oklahoma to reinstate physical education in schools, to reduce or remove access to soft drinks and to upgrade the school menus. But what children (and adults) do at home is a major piece of this puzzle. Too many Oklahomans live at or below the poverty line, so fruits and vegetables lose out to less-expensive and less-healthy foods. As for exercise, that all too often gives way to video games and 150-channel TV.
Officials estimate 15 percent of black and American Indian adults in Oklahoma have diabetes. This has the attention of researchers. No doctorate degree is needed to see that without changes in personal habits, the folks at the Harold Hamm center will have more than enough cases to keep them busy, and the costs related to diabetes in Oklahoma — now placed at about $3 billion annually — will only go up.