Study: Diabetes affects more college-age people

A major factor in the rise of diabetes was the increase in obesity of people ages 18 to 29.

Britt Johnsen

Graduate student Elizabeth Bertrand worries about diabetes not only because it runs in her family but also because her diet gets worse when she is stressed.

While diabetes was once rare for people less than 50 years old, a recent study found the disease affects more young people.

Researchers found a 70 percent increase in obesity of people ages 18 to 29 over the last decade, a major factor in the diabetes increase among young people.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, showed Type 2 diabetes is more aggressive in people ages 18 to 44.

Type 2 is often brought on by obesity and family history, and is sometimes controllable by monitoring weight, exercise and diet. Doctors do not know what causes Type 1 diabetes, which is when the pancreas suddenly stops producing insulin.

The study looked at the medical records of 7,844 people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and compared them to people who did not have diabetes.

The study found that people ages 18 to 44 with Type 2 diabetes are 14 times more likely to have a heart attack and 30 times more likely to have a stroke than those their age without diabetes.

A 2001 mail-in survey of 3,000 students by Boynton Health Service showed that 0.5 percent of students on campus had, at some point in their lives, been diagnosed with some type of diabetes.

However, many people do not know they have diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a 2002 estimate shows 18.2 million people in the United States have diabetes, and 5.2 million of those people do not know they have it.

“In recent years, we are seeing younger and younger people get diagnosed,” said Diane Tuncer, communications director for the American Diabetes Association. “We definitely need to be concerned.”

Mary Story, School of Public Health epidemiology professor, said people with diabetes are at risk for heart disease, cardiovascular disease, blindness and, in some cases, amputation of limbs because of infections.

However, she said many people – even those diagnosed with diabetes – do not worry about the disease’s risks because it can take up to 20 years for problems to develop.

Junior Kelle Doperalski does not worry about diabetes. She said it is not something she thinks about because she does not feel she is unhealthy and it does not run in her family.

Ellen Rock, University pediatrician and adolescent medicine fellow and employee at the STAR clinic for eating disorders and obesity, said children as young as 5 or 6 years old have been diagnosed with diabetes. If the trend continues, future generations will feel the effects of diabetes at younger ages.

Tuncer said college students are at risk because alcohol use, weight gain and physical inactivity all contribute to obesity and diabetes.

Senior Rose Samuel said even though she does not think about diabetes, she thinks about her health and tries to stay active and maintain a healthy diet.

Teresa Hillier, endocrinologist and investigator at the Kaiser’s health research center in Portland, Ore., said such means of prevention are important.

Hillier said college is the perfect time for students to become more health-conscious because they are out on their own for the first time, and can instill healthiness in their lifestyles.

She said even moderate exercise can help people lose weight and reduce the risk of diabetes.

According to the Diabetes Prevention Program Web site, people can reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes by 58 percent by walking for 30 minutes per day, five to seven days per week.

“Find something you like to do actively and make it part of your life,” Tuncer said.