A recent study that shows a majority of Sonoma County residents are on a path to become diabetics has local health officials and health care providers sounding alarms and calling for more interventions to address the growing diabetes epidemic.
According to a study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, 49 percent of Sonoma County residents are prediabetic — a precursor to type 2 diabetes — and 10 percent are diabetic. That’s 59 percent of the county’s adult population, compared to 55 percent for the rest of the state.
“It’s very concerning because it has enormous potential health impacts,” Sonoma County Health Officer Karen Milman said.
Milman pointed out that 30 percent of local residents who are prediabetic will have “full diabetes” within five years.
“The thing that is most important is that this is preventable. ... We have a chance to intervene and prevent this from becoming a bigger problem,” Milman said.
The study, which was commissioned by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, provides the state’s first prediabetes rates by county, age and ethnicity. The study analyzed hemoglobin A1c and fasting plasma glucose findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, as well as data from the California Health Interview Survey.
Milman said unless more is done to prevent the disease, the study is a window into the future of the epidemic in the county, state and across the country. She said the number of people who are becoming prediabetic in Sonoma County is likely increasing, given the documented rise in rates of obesity and diabetes.
Local health experts said reducing rates of prediabetes requires helping people improve their nutrition and ensuring that they have more physical activity.
Melanie Larson, a certified diabetes educator who is manager of outpatient nutrition services for Kaiser Permanente’s Santa Rosa Medical Center, said the study’s findings reflect a trend she sees every day.
“I’m just glad that it’s finally being publicly acknowledged,” Larson said.
At Kaiser, patients who are found to be prediabetic are assigned a clinical health educator and enrolled into a prediabetes class.
Larson, a registered dietitian, said poor diet coupled with obesity often leads to insulin resistance, which inhibits glucose from entering the body’s cells for energy. As a result, glucose accumulates in the bloodstream causing damage to tissues and organs, she said.
When someone is prediabetic, insulin resistance begins to increase.
“Research has shown us that regular activity and a 5 to 7 percent decrease in body weight can significantly improve your blood-glucose levels,” Larson said. “That’s not as much weight as people think.”
Larson said that simply changing your diet will not reduce insulin resistance. Exercise and some weight loss has to be part of the mix.
“Until the insulin resistance has improved, it’s difficult for diet alone to make an impact,” she said.
At the Santa Rosa YMCA, a yearlong diabetes prevention program offers participants more than a dozen sessions aimed at reducing weight, improving nutrition and increasing physical activity. The program, which uses curriculum approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is geared toward adults who have a body-mass index of 25 or greater and who have a prediabetes diagnosis, said Nicole Martinovich, the local YMCA’s diabetes prevention program coordinator.