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Diabetes: "Silent epidemic" among veterans

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SIOUX FALLS — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has called diabetes a "silent epidemic" affecting those who have served in the military and is dedicating resources to better management of the disease.

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Type 2 affects almost 20 percent of veterans who use VA health care, compared to about 8 percent of the general population.

According to Dr. Timothy O'Leary, the acting director at the Office of Research and Development at the VA, diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, kidney disease and amputation in the U.S., and up to 80 percent of patients with diabetes will face heart attack or stroke.

O'Leary said group meetings are proving to be a successful method to help people keep blood sugar controlled. The VA also has found that having veterans use pedometers encourages more physical activity, which can help keep diabetes under control.

March 25 is American Diabetes Association Alert Day, when everyone is encouraged to take a risk assessment online. Known risk factors for diabetes include a family history, being overweight, being age 40 or older, suffering diabetes during pregnancy, and a lack of physical activity.

O'Leary said the disease shows up in people without those risk factors, too. Also, been research indicates exposure to environmental toxins can trigger the disease.

That online risk assessment tool is at Diabetes.org.

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