Natividad Medical Center offers free screenings to Monterey County residents for diabetes risk

The diabetes educator at Natividad Medical Center, Bertha Ramirez, checks the body mass index of visitors at the hospital to help screen for diabetes Monday in Salinas. (Photo by Conner Jay)

Photos by CONNER JAY
The Californian

November 16, 2010 -- It's easier, less expensive and more effective to prevent diabetes than to treat it once you have it, medical personnel told Monterey County residents Monday at a free screening held at Natividad Medical Center.

It's critical to catch diabetes as early as possible to make treatment more effective, said Bertha Ramirez, a certified diabetes educator at Natividad's Diabetes Education Center. But an even better plan would be to prevent the onset of the disease, she said.

"Control what you eat, how much you eat and when you eat," Ramirez said. "And get any little bit of exercise you can."

About 30 people showed up and stood on a scale to have their body mass index measured. "It's a good non-invasive test," she said, adding that those with a body mass index greater than 25 were at risk for diabetes and heart disease and were advised to see their doctor.

Many people are walking around with dangerously high blood-sugar levels, yet are convinced they didn't have diabetes, and consequently haven't been tested for a long time, Ramirez said.

"When they don't know they have diabetes, it's even worse." Ramirez said. Diabetes left undetected and untreated can cause damage to vital organs, including the heart and kidneys.

Many people have already had the disease for as many as five years by the time they get diagnosed, Ramirez said. "Their high blood sugar has been damaging their bodies and organs all that time."

Diabetes affects about 24 million Americans, and nearly 6 million of them don't know they have the disease, according to the National Diabetes Education Program of the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disease results in high blood sugar that can lead to serious complications and early death, although people with the disease can take steps to control it.

In Monterey County, about 8 percent of residents have diabetes, said Krista Hanni of the Monterey County Health Department. Diabetes rates vary with education, socio-economic status and ethnicity, she said. Low-income, less-educated people consume a less-healthy diet, one higher in fat and simple carbohydrates, which along with other factors can increase the risk of diabetes, according to CDCP. Native American, Hispanic and African-American populations have a higher prevalence of diabetes than other ethnicities.

Another factor affecting the seriousness of the disease is access to health insurance. The sooner diabetes is diagnosed and treated, the less damage to vital organs.

The county Health Department is leading efforts to help people manage obesity, including eating healthier food and receiving health information, such as the dangers of obesity, how to access care and healthy diet plans, said Karen Smith, the department's public information officer. The county also helps people learn to live with diabetes, and how to prevent it she said. "It's not a disease I would wish on anyone."

Monday's screening was only part of the services the Diabetes Education Center offers year-round, Ramirez said. People can come any time to get information and join support groups.

The screening was conducted as part of Sunday's World Diabetes Day as part of National Diabetes Awareness Month.




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Natividad Medical Center • 1441 Constitution Blvd. • Salinas, CA 93906 • (831) 755-4111