Diabetes rate particularly high among Utah's Pacific Islanders
1/3 of adults could have disease by 2050, official says
"We grow our own food in Tonga," she said, adding that fast food is much harder to come by in the islands of the Southern Pacific. Nash said a lack of health insurance and language differences serve as barriers to many Pacific Islanders obtaining the proper treatment for their ailments, including diabetes, which afflicts 44 percent of the Tongan population in Utah.
Sunada said health care costs to treat diabetes surpass $174 billion nationally every year, and close to $1 billion annually in Utah.
If a diagnosis is delayed, Type 2 diabetes can gradually damage a person's blood vessels and eyesight, as well as the feeling in fingertips and toes. Without treatment, numbness and injury in the extremities can lead to infection and amputation, Sunada said.
"We are at a diabetes breaking point with more and more children and adults of all ethnicities being diagnosed each year," said Laura Western, executive director of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Utah chapter. "We want the entire Utah community to know they don't have to stand silently and watch this merciless disease take over their lives. They can take an active role in preventing, treating and curing diabetes. It is now more important than ever to know the causes, its symptoms and steps in prevention."
Officials encourage all Utahns to take the stairs instead of the elevator, when available; incorporate additional vegetables into each meal; visit a doctor regularly; and get involved with local chapters for education and advocacy work.
Until a cure is found, prevention is the only way to combat the growing prevalence of the disease, said Western, who lives in Cottonwood Heights. She hopes to go to law school after graduating from the University of Utah and work in nonprofit advocacy, to continue helping organizations get the attention they need to find a cure for diabetes.
"It doesn't affect individuals alone," she said, adding that friends, family, caregivers and the community are all impacted by the disease.
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