Written by Joanna Hughes

Diabetes impacts hundreds of millions of people all over the world. Because it’s so common, however, many people underestimate its seriousness. Not only that, but half of those living with diabetes remain undiagnosed. To that end, the International Diabetes Federation and the World Health Organization joined forced in 1991 to create an annual day designated for raising diabetes awareness. So there's no better occasion than today, World Diabetes Day, to highlight four reasons why all students should care about this life-threatening disease.

1. Diabetes is a serious illness.  

Just because diabetes is manageable does not mean it’s not serious. In fact, it can lead to complications including heart disease, stroke, blindness, and kidney failure.

Also a risk for diabetics is amputation. Allina Health's infectious diseases doctor Alberto Ricart, MD, says, “One of the most common complications for diabetes is foot infections. Numbness and poor circulation in the feet from diabetes allows small foot sores to become worrisome ulcers that don’t heal well. If the sores get bad enough, patients can lose toes or even a foot.”

2. The number of people with diabetes is skyrocketing.

While the CDC ranks diabetes as the seventh highest cause of death in the US, new research suggests that it may actually be much higher on the list -- third behind only heart disease and cancer. According to the findings, when you factor in comorbidities, diabetes-related mortalities account for 12 percent of all US deaths.

Even more alarming is that low- and middle-income countries have three-quarters of the total number of people with diabetes.

All in all, the number of people with diabetes is expected to rise to 22 million by 2030.

While type 1 diabetes is not (yet) preventable, the more common type 2 diabetes can be prevented and/or delayed through healthy lifestyle changes. And yet most people do not have access to diabetes education programs. The more you understand about the disease, the more proactively you can take steps in your own life to stay healthy.

3. Your classmates may have diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes usually begins before the age of 40 with a peak age at diagnosis of approximately 14. And while type 2 diabetes is typically diagnosed in adulthood, the illness is striking younger people, as well. So if you haven’t yet had a classmate with diabetes, you may in the future. However, according to Shalom Obisie-Orlu, a college student living with diabetes, many people she meets don’t seem to know or care about diabetes.

“I wish people knew more about how I have to manage the disease and how annoying it is. That there are constant pricks to test my blood sugar, and that with an insulin pump I constantly have a port in my stomach with a plastic needle. This stuff is really annoying and can hurt. It takes a lot out of a person physically and mentally. It is a lot more than just counting carbs; it is something I have to constantly think about,” she says.

In addition to wishing more people would understand the disease, Obisie-Orlu also points to the important role college community members can play in supporting classmates with diabetes. “Support is a huge thing for all allies. I know personally that I love when my friends are interested in my disease and about learning more… I love when my family asks how I am doing, and I rely a lot on my romantic partners for reminders and moral support when changing my insulin pump sites. Support is key with this disease because managing it is a full-time job,” she continues.

4. You may end up on the frontline of diabetes research or treatment.

Whether your goal is to become a physician or other healthcare professional, the likelihood is high that you’ll interact with people with diabetes in your career. Unfortunately, just as most college students have limited awareness about the disease, so do medical students: Studies indicate that many junior doctors lack confidence and skills when it comes to diabetes management, with prescribing a particular area of concern. The good news is a pilot study investigating the effectiveness of “Diabetes Acute Care Day(s)” determined that these intensive events -- comprising live lectures and care-based learning tutorials -- boost medical student preparedness to care for patients with diabetes.

Interested in research meanwhile? Consider joining the many scientists working fervently toward a cure.

One last thing to keep in mind is that while diabetes may not be on your radar now, there’s a strong chance that you or someone you love may develop type 2 in the future. Learning about diabetes now can not only help you better manage the disease if and when it manifests, but can also be an invaluable preventative measure.  

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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