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Health--it's what we all have in common: whether we're trying to maintain our health through good habits or improve our failing health. "Bridges to Health" is 90.5 WESA's health care reporting initiative examining everything from unintended consequences of the Affordable Care Act to transparency in health care costs; from a lack of access to quality care for minority members of our society to confronting the opioid crisis in our region. It's about our individual health and the well-being of our community.Health care coverage on 90.5 WESA is made possible in part by a grant from the Jewish Healthcare Foundation.

Western PA Diabetes Cases Slightly Higher Than National Average

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Sarah Kovash
/
90.5 WESA
Allegheny YMCA spinning class participants celebrate after finishing a difficult portion of the class. YMCA officials say classes like these can significantly help reduce instances of diabetes.

Diabetes cases are continuing to rise in the U.S. and according to the World Health Organization, the disease is projected to be the seventh leading cause of death by 2030.

“I’m not exactly sure why but there’s a region of the United States where there’s an increased incidence of diabetes,” says Dr. Jennifer Holst, an endocrinologist with the Allegheny Health Network, focused on the treatment of disease.

Western Pennsylvania is part of this region, extending up from the South, known as the “diabetes belt.” However, the nationwide increase of diabetes diagnoses in western Pennsylvania is 3 percent higher than the national average, according to Julie Heverly, executive director for the Western PA American Diabetes Association.

That higher-than-average rate is not good, but at least has more people thinking about the disease, Heverly said.

“Doctors and the general public are more aware of diabetes, so they’re taking steps to see if more people have diabetes,” Heverly said.

According to the association, more than 29 million people have diabetes. That’s about one out of every 11 people. But one-quarter of those people don’t know they have diabetes, ADA officials said.

People with undiagnosed diabetes face a number of health risks, from the loss of vision to loss of limbs.

In addition to health risks, diabetes can take a financial toll on patients and businesses. According to the American Diabetes Association, total medical costs, lost work and wages are estimated at $245 billion. Costs for people with the disease are twice as high as those without.

Some employers, through company health plans, offer lifestyle interventions to help people who aren’t diabetic.

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Credit Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA
Laurette Burleigh, 69, and her husband Ron, 81, take spinning classes at the Allegheny YMCA three times a week. They credit their good health to eating right and exercising regularly.

According to Gretchen North, associate vice president of Healthy Living at the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh, these programs can make a big difference.

“They have the ability to delay or reduce the onset of diabetes by 50 to 70 percent,” she said.

While there is no cure for diabetes, maintaining a healthy diet and exercising can go a long way in managing the disease.

Health Care coverage on 90.5 WESA is made possible in part by a grant from the Jewish Healthcare Foundation.