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November 24, 2008
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The Disease of the 21st Century

The most lethal disease through much of human history has been influenza.  It was the number one cause of death in 1907, fell to sixth place in 1957, and further dropped to eighth place in 2007.  It is still a major killer in places without a strong medical infrastructure.

What might be properly labeled as “the disease of the 21st century,” however, is diabetes.  The Centers for Disease Control recently released a study based upon 2007 aggregate data that points out that about 8 percent of Americans, about 24 million people, have diabetes.  It also points out that another 57 million people (about 25.6 percent) have health issues such as impaired blood glucose levels which targets them as being in the on-deck circle for a diagnosis (i.e., pre-diabetes). 

Part of the insidious nature of diabetes is that it is very much a reflection of our culture.  It is a disease that is amplified by obesity.  It is connected to a high-sugar-intake diet.  It is also fertilized by a lack of exercise. 

There are other factors which stand in the way of being able to wipe out diabetes, but none of them have anything to do with the biochemistry or endocrinology related to the production of insulin.  Rather, these have to do with the political chemistry contained within the attitudes and mindsets of each of us, and the political priorities we establish in our society.

One of these factors is the absence of health care insurance coverage for amazingly huge numbers of people in the United States.  Various numbers are cited about how many uninsured Americans there are.   All estimates, however, are in the ugly range of tens of millions of people, many of whom are children.  Whatever the real numbers may be, those numbers are too large. 

In this society, lack of some form of health insurance means lack of access to the health care establishment.  It means treatment not sought, or treatment denied.  It compounds a disease of the body with a disease of the spirit.

With or without health insurance coverage, another strong compounding factor, perhaps the strongest of all, is our own lack of accountability in taking charge of our lives.  In most cases, diabetes is preventable or certainly its manifestations are controllable — if we choose to make them so. 

One of the noble truths of Buddhism is that suffering has a cause and that by finding and attacking the cause, one can alleviate suffering.  We know that being overweight, being sedentary as opposed to getting regular exercise, not paying better attention to what we eat, or not having simple blood tests done periodically leads directly down a path to diabetes.  The most effective treatment or cure possible lies within the hands of each of us whether or not we have a family doctor.  If we take action on the knowledge we have about the harmful health practices that get us into trouble — such as those described in this article, or smoking, or not wearing a seatbelt — we take immediate actions that may well be as valuable as anything a physician can prescribe. 

The plagues that cause us to suffer as individuals and harm our communities often have root causes inside each of us and remedies, as well, which can spring from more accountable and responsible individual actions and attitudes. 

Understanding why this or any other source of suffering enters our lives helps us plan a campaign to attack and defeat this cause of our suffering.  This is only true, however, if we take that knowledge and add to it a compelling sense of urgency to “get on with it!!”   In the case of diabetes, early onset often has no or few symptoms.  Prevention, based on knowledge of what terrible suffering could lie ahead, is the best way to defeat the disease!

Like many things in life, you have to want to be on your own team before you can expect anyone else to join.

Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor •


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