For George Head, riding his bike across the entire country was just another fun way to stay healthy.
“I really try to stay active, whether it is kayaking, sailing or biking.”
But he hasn’t always lived this action packed life. Thirty-six years ago, Head was diagnosed with diabetes, causing him to reevaluate his lifestyle and take control of his health.
Head is not alone among men who are at risk for the disease. The percentage of males developing diabetes is increasing faster than that of women.
A Scottish study published this September in the journal Diabetologia concludes that men are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes at a lower Body Mass Index than women are.
“Diabetes, by definition, is the body’s inability to properly use the food we eat for energy and regulate blood sugar, “ Craig Bobik, administrative coordinator for the USF Diabetes Center said.
“Type 2 usually affects adults and children who tend to be overweight and have low activity levels,” Bobik said. “The increased obesity causes the cells to be resistant to the insulin, which carries sugar from the blood into cells.”
The Centers for Disease Control tracks the start of the male-diabetes trend to 1999.
“From 1980 to 1998, the age–adjusted percentage of diagnosed diabetes for men and women was similar,” the CDC website said. “However, in 1999, the percentage for males began to increase at a faster rate than that of females. From 1980 to 2009, the age–adjusted percentage of diagnosed diabetes increased 144 percent for men and 103 percent for women.” The cause for this increased rate of male diabetes is not understood and is being researched. The Scottish study believes that men tend to carry more abdominal fat, but women are more prone to safer fat stored just under the skin.
Bobik sees how this could be linked to male diabetics.
“Studies have shown that people who are ‘apple’ shaped are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes than those who are ‘pear’ shaped,” Bobik said. “Unfortunately, men tend to store fat in the abdominal areas leading to that dreaded ‘apple’ shape.”
But Bobik also thinks that using only an individual’s BMI can be misleading in situations, so he suggests also looking at waist circumference.
Another expert on diabetes, Kendra Vehik, wants society to focus on this disease because “diabetes is a burden associated with considerable morbidity and mortality that contributes to extensive personal and societal costs.”
Vehik is an assistant professor in the USF Pediatrics Epidemiology Center.
“A person can expect to increase interaction with their physician with regular checkups and visits to an eye care specialist,” Vehik said. “They will need to adopt a healthy diet and begin an exercise regime to reduce the long-term complications associated with the disease.”
Head was sure to follow his doctor’s advice after he was diagnosed.
“I immediately became a healthy eater and an active person,” Head said. “I was only 20 when my mother was diagnosed with diabetes, and it was three years later that I was diagnosed.”
Although diabetes is trending towards the male population, it is still an issue everyone should recognize.
“Diabetes is the number 1 health problem the nation is facing,” Bobik said. “It leads to so many complications, heart attacks and strokes. The cost to our country is incredibly high.”
Experts say as the number of new diabetics and pre-diabetics rise, it is important to take preventative measures, especially if you’re a part of a higher risk group.
“Get active Bobik said, “Walk whenever you can. Park a little further away. Take the stairs. Wear a pedometer and try to reach 10,000 steps per day.
“Do this at a minimum and then try to increase your regular exercise,” Bobik urged.