As more people eat fast food and skip exercise, more are becoming diabetic. This year, the World Health Organization reports that three million people will die from the disease. When it's diagnosed early, diabetes is reversible, but it's often hard to catch in time. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that nearly one quarter of all diabetes cases in the U.S. go undiagnosed, so some communities are adopting innovative ways to get people's attention.
At the Southeast YMCA gym in Colorado Springs, a dad tosses a basketball with his wife and son. A mom herds her children toward the waterslides, and a sweatsuit-clad couple saunters toward the weight-lifting room. While many of these patrons are slender, quite a few have expanded waistlines, giving their bodies an apple shape. Health educator Wayne Greene says they're at risk for diabetes.
"Especially when you see a man that has a large abdominal girth like that," he says. "Those are strong indicators that even though he's in his thirties, late 20s or early 30s, if he's not on the road to pre-diabetes, he may have some complications down the road."
Diabetes can lead to heart disease, blindness and death. When it's detected early, a healthy diet and exercise can reverse the condition. So Mr. Green approaches the young family playing basketball.
"Excuse me, sir? Ma'am. Excuse me. My name is Wayne Greene with the Urban League. And today, Penrose Hospital and the Diabetes Resource Network, they're offering free, free health screenings," he says. "What they're doing today is they're allowing you to have your blood pressure checked, allowing you to get your screening for diabetes as well as checking your cholesterol. When was the last time you had your cholesterol checked?"
"I've never had mine checked," says the woman.
"If you can take maybe the next 20 minutes, take some time, fill out some forms?," replies Mr. Greene as he invites them to the screening. "We even have some students that will come over and watch the children."
Another apple-shaped couple Mr. Greene approaches are in a hurry and turn down the offer of the free blood screening.
"The sad news is that most people who have the greatest amount of indicators that they're susceptible to diabetes are the ones who always refuse. We really have to take preventative measures right now, so we're trying to raise the awareness."
Next, he approaches a mom with three squirmy kids. She strolls to the screening room, where people seem to be having fun as they don blood pressure cuffs and learn how a tiny pedometer counts their steps as they exercise. Some are getting their blood sugar checked, which doesn't look like fun.
Family physician Rebecca Davis-Trujillo organized this screening event. She says the risk of diabetes has become so common, it even affects young children, such as a little girl that Mr. Greene noticed in the lobby.
"The youth was pretty overweight," she said. "As I talked with her mother, [I learned] the grandmother has diabetes, and a cousin has diabetes."
Because she had known people who didn't receive effective treatment, the girl was terrified about what might happen to her. Dr. Trujillo gave her special attention.
"This little girl didn't want to know if she had diabetes, because for her, that means death," she said. "So she broke down in tears, didn't want her blood sugar checked. So we spent a lot of time, and I gave her my pedometer and talked with her about how to use it, and they're really on the right track, and I think she's going to do very well. But, we've really got to treat them with gentle gloves, to help them pull through that process."
To encourage more of her neighbors to be checked for the disease, Dr. Trujillo founded the Diabetes Resource Network, which raises funds and organizes volunteers to help with screenings.