Hallmark meeting the rise in diabetes in Medford area

Medford Transcript

Nov. 5, 2010

By Rob Barry

Diabetes is on the rise in Massachusetts and one Medford hospital has devoted a lot of resources to meeting the rise in demands for care. The most recent state Department of Public Health statistics say 7.4 percent of adults in the state were told they had diabetes in 2007, up from 4.3 percent only a decade earlier.

In February last year, Hallmark Health opened a Diabetes and Endocrinology Center at Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Medford. Dr. Sunita Schurgin, chief of endocrinology at LMH, said more than 8,000 people have participated in programs at the center in the past year.

“It was clear for several years that there was a local community that needed local access to good diabetes care,” said Schurgin. “It’s safe to say [diabetes] is on the rise.”

She added the increase could be due — in large part — to a rise in obesity because many people are living an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and not exercising. Schurgin said part of the increase might be attributed to the standards of what is considered diabetes getting stricter.

“I saw a recent study that said 30 minutes of exercise a day could prevent 52 percent of Type 2 diabetes cases,” said Alice Dicenzo, a diabetes nurse and educator who works at the center. “We’ve technologied ourselves right into trouble. You don’t even need to get out of the car to get a cup of coffee anymore.”

Schugin said diabetes requires a specialized level of care and unlike many medical conditions that are simply treated with the appropriate medication, diabetes is easiest to control when patients are very well educated about their condition.

At LMH’s center, patients with Type 1, Type 2 and gestational diabetes receive treatment in three forms: education, support and management. In addition to receiving medication, patients at LMH attend support meetings and learn about quality-of-life changes that might help their condition.

Medford itself is not terribly high above the state average when it comes to diabetes cases. The DPH said Medford’s diabetes hospitalization rate was 7.7 percent higher than the state’s in 2008. Considering the city has a higher than average senior citizen population, however, the state acknowledged this was not unusual.

But while Medford is a bit above the state standard, Massachusetts itself is below the country’s overall rate of 7.8 percent. But there still is an undeniable rise in the disease over the past decade.

“The factors contributing to the increase are hard to tease out, since it could be due to a true increase in the number of cases reflect an increase in the number of people with undiagnosed diabetes getting diagnosed,” said Terri Mendoza, director of the DPH’s Diabetes Prevention and Control Program. “It could also reflect better care, as more people with diabetes are living with their condition.”

Those who are statistically most at risk for Type 2 diabetes include: people with low glucose tolerance, those over age 45, people with a family history of diabetes, the overweight and people with low HDL cholesterol or high blood pressure.

In addition, the DPH has found higher numbers of diabetes cases among certain ethnic groups, including non-Hispanic blacks, Hispanic/Latino Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and American Indians and Alaska Natives.

“Type 2 diabetes may be prevented or delayed in high-risk individuals by lifestyle changes, including modest weight loss and regular physical activity,” said Mendoza. “In addition, people over the age of 45 should be tested for diabetes, as should people under the age of 45 who are overweight and who have one or more of the other risk factors listed above.”

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