Diabetes: Myths and Facts
November is National Diabetes Month, a time to learn more about this serious health condition affecting millions of people across the country.
Currently, it is estimated that 34.2 million Americans—just over 1 in 10—have diabetes, while another 88 million American adults (about 1 in 3) have prediabetes.
Despite the prevalence of diabetes and prediabetes, many people have misconceptions about what diabetes is and how serious diabetes can be when it is not well-managed.
Here at Health Edco, we have a full line of diabetes education models and materials dedicated to dispelling misunderstandings about diabetes and teaching the importance of diabetes management. Read on to learn the facts versus common myths and misperceptions about diabetes, and discover just a few of our popular diabetes education resources.
Myth #1: Diabetes Doesn’t Run in My Family, So I Won’t Develop It.
It is true that having a parent or sibling with diabetes increases your risk for developing it. Having a parent or sibling with type 1 diabetes only slightly increases your risk for type 1 diabetes. People who have a parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes are at increased risk for type 2 diabetes. However, many people who develop diabetes have no family history of the disease, and having a parent or sibling with the disease doesn’t automatically mean you will develop it, too.
Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, and getting regular physical activity are key ways to help reduce the risk for type 2 diabetes.
adults about diabetes, diabetes management, and prevention.
Myth #2: I’m Not Overweight, So I Won’t Get Diabetes.
Being overweight, especially around the waist, is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes. However, people who are at a healthy weight or are even slightly overweight can develop type 2 diabetes, and many people who are overweight or obese never develop type 2 diabetes. Although many people believe that being overweight is the only risk factor for type 2 diabetes, other risk factors also affect the risk, such as your age, family history, and activity level.
The good news is that, if you are overweight, losing as little as 10 percent of your body weight can significantly reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes, help reverse prediabetes, and improve your blood glucose control.
Myth #3: Eating Too Much Sugar Causes Diabetes.
It’s a common misperception that eating too much sugar causes diabetes. This misperception may be based, in part, on a misunderstanding of what is meant by “blood sugar.”
As a normal part of digestion, the body changes carbohydrates from foods into different sugar molecules, including glucose, which is the body’s main source of energy. The bloodstream carries glucose to the body’s cells, and the cells absorb glucose with the help of insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. Glucose is instantly used by the body’s cells, or it is stored for future use.
In people with diabetes, body cells cannot absorb glucose because of a problem with insulin. If the body does not produce enough insulin, or, if it cannot use the insulin it produces, the amount of glucose in the blood (known as “blood glucose” or “blood sugar”) increases.
Even though eating sugar does not cause diabetes, sugar adds extra calories to the diet without providing nutritional value. Extra “empty” calories can contribute to excess weight gain, which can increase the risk for overweight and obesity, which are risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Consuming beverages high in added sugars—such as soft drinks, fruit-flavored drinks, and energy drinks—has been linked to type 2 diabetes. Just a single serving of a soft drink may contain 9 or more teaspoons of sugar, adding at least 150 empty liquid calories.
is perfect to explain the A1C test to patients and students.
Myth #4: Type 1 Diabetes Develops Only in Children and Teens.
In people with type 1 diabetes, the pancreas produces little or no insulin. It is true that type 1 diabetes was formerly called juvenile diabetes because it is usually diagnosed in children and teens. Most commonly, type 1 diabetes is diagnosed in children between the ages of 4 and 7 or between the ages of 10 and 14.
Even though type 1 diabetes is typically diagnosed in children and teens, it can actually develop at any age. A type 1 diabetes diagnosis in an adult can be more difficult to discern: Many adults with type 1 diabetes are at a healthy body weight. In addition to checking blood glucose levels with tests such as the A1C test, healthcare professionals may run other tests, such as tests that look for certain antibodies or ketones in the urine, to determine whether an adult patient has type 1 diabetes.
Myth #5: Type 2 Diabetes Occurs Only in Adults.
Type 2 diabetes was once called adult-onset diabetes because it rarely occurred in children and teens. Today, nearly 19 percent of young people in the United States between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese. Now, with nearly one-third of American children and teens being overweight or obese, a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes in young people has become increasingly common. After children receive a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes, the condition needs to be well managed to reduce the risk of potentially serious complications as they get older. Learn more about children and type 2 diabetes..
Myth #6: People With Diabetes Have to Eat a Special Diet.
People who have diabetes can eat the same healthy foods as everyone else. It is recommended that people with diabetes get their carbohydrates form healthy foods—vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains—while avoiding foods high in sugar, fat, and sodium. These recommendations are consistent with what the general population should be eating. Some people with diabetes are encouraged to count carbohydrates, while others do not. People with diabetes should work with their diabetes educator or other healthcare professional to develop an appropriate meal plan that they can follow to manage their blood glucose levels consistently and successfully.
models, including sweets, that can fit into a diabetic diet plan.
Myth #7: People With Diabetes Can’t Eat Sweets.
People with diabetes can eat sweets! Like everyone else, they should follow a healthy eating plan, but they can allow themselves to indulge in a sweet treat every once in a while. People who have diabetes should plan ahead if they want dessert, such as by replacing some of the carbs in their meal with their treat. People who have diabetes should talk with their diabetes educator or other healthcare professional about their dietary needs and how safely to integrate the occasional treat into their diet.
Myth #8: People Who Have Diabetes Should Avoid All Physical Activity.
Being physically active plays an important role in managing diabetes. Physical activity can help the body use insulin better, lower blood glucose levels and blood pressure, and help people reach and maintain a healthy weight. The type and amount of physical activity people with diabetes should perform is based on their individual needs. People with diabetes should consult their healthcare professional before beginning any exercise program. They may need to check their blood glucose levels before, during, and after physical activity, and other precautions may be recommended.
Myth #9: Diabetes Isn’t a Serious Condition.
This myth is a dangerous misconception! Diabetes is a very serious—and common—health problem. When diabetes isn’t well-controlled, over time it can lead to many serious and potentially life-threatening complications, including heart attack and stroke, nerve damage, kidney failure, eye damage, and many other devastating and potentially fatal conditions. Uncontrolled diabetes is a leading cause of death.
damage, and other complications of uncontrolled diabetes.
Myth #10: If I Have Diabetes, That Means I’ll Go Blind or Lose a Limb.
It is true that diabetes is a leading cause of blindness. And, diabetes is the main reason for amputation of a toe, a foot, or a leg not caused by traumatic injury. However, most cases of blindness, amputation, and other complications in people with diabetes can be prevented by keeping diabetes well-controlled, including managing blood glucose levels, body weight, and blood pressure. People who have diabetes should take extra care to follow a regular foot care regimen and have regular eye exams.
If you have any questions about diabetes, talk to your diabetes educator or other healthcare professional. To learn more about our innovative diabetes education resources, please visit our Diabetes Education Materials Section.
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