Diabetes in Southeast Alaska lower than rest of state - but Alaska Native cases are increasing

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - Diabetes is a growing problem in the country and Alaska too, especially among Alaska Natives.

    Cynthia Gordon was on Action Line on KINY Tuesday, Jan. 31. She is the diabetes education program manager for Bartlett Regional Hospital. She has been a nurse for 24 years and began her career as a nurse in Kodiak at the Kodiak Area Native Association.

    She said the Alaska Natives have the highest rate of new diagnoses of diabetes.

    "What happens if we look at how diabetes progressed across the country the first thing that happened is most people on the East Coast developed diabetes and then it spread West and then it spread north to Alaska," Gordon said.

    The western diet as it was introduced, is attributed to the increase in diabetes for Alaska Natives.

    "The Native Alaskans were big hunter-gatherers and unfortunately it seems like as the Western diet moves into new territories people are more likely to get type two diabetes," she said.

    And it comes down to genetics combined with a diet change that has caused an uptick in Alaska Native diabetes.

    "For the Alaska Natives their bodies were not as used to a higher carbohydrate diet say like the Europeans were and so it's a new thing for them and their bodies just haven't really had time to adjust if you would say," she said.

    For the general public as a whole, though, Caucasians still have the highest cases of diabetes, due to multiple factors that contribute to type II diabetes, which is the leading contributor of diabetes with 90 to 95 percent of the cases in the country.

    "We know a couple of things that we think help diabetes," Gordon said. "Unfortunately things like weight gain, lack of sleep, stress, whether it's psychological or physical stress, sleep apnea. And there are many, many causes we think."

    The good news, though, she said, is that Southeast Alaska has the lowest number of diabetes.

    "The CDC puts out maps of where the highest concentrations of people with diabetes are," she said, "and I'm glad to say that Southeast Alaska is not one of the highest it's actually one of the lowest rates in the state. So we figure in Juneau about 3,000 plus people have diabetes here."

    Diabetes is growing each year, and Gordon stated that by 2050 one in three Americans could have diabetes. Currently, about 96 million people in America have pre-diabetes, and 34 million with diabetes. In 2000 the rate was not quite 7 percent and now is 10.5 percent, she said. 

    Monitoring your blood sugar with blood lab tests, and taking action when pre-diabetes is discovered is key to preventing it.

    "Physicians and nurse practitioners and PAs and the medical community have started recognizing that when someone has pre diabetes," she said. "That's the time to act because if you have pre-diabetes. You can actually reverse that and stop diabetes from happening. And that's what we're all about prevention is a big deal for us at Bartlett."

    Gordon said a proper diet and exercise, combined with other health conscious-measures and perhaps prescribed medicine, are all preventative measures one can take, to protect against the onset of Type II diabetes. One-on-one diabetes education is available at Bartlett Regional Hospital, and free glucose screening programs are provided at the hospital throughout the year as well.

    Information about diabetes is available online at the Bartlett Regional Hospital website.


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