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As many as 12% of Letcher residents may have diabetes

Officials meet in Lexington to discuss threat of disease


Thousands of Kentuckians are in danger of literally eating and lounging themselves to death.

That was the message delivered Monday by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and other public officials and health-care professionals attending the Kentucky Diabetes Solutions Summit in Lexington.

“Sixty years ago we had to worry about people working themselves to death in the coal mines,” said Gingrich. “Now we have to worry about people dying because they don’t do anything.”

Data collected in 2007 indicates an alarming 12 percent of the adult population in Letcher County suffers from Type II diabetes – a chronic disease that can be caused by poor eating habits and the lack of exercise. The data, gathered by the Kentucky Institute of Medicine, also shows that 28 percent of Letcher County residents are obese, while 44 percent of the county’s adults lack physical activity.

“We’ve spent the last 40 years getting soft, self-indulgent and stupid,” said Gingrich, who now heads the Center for Health Transformation in Washington, D.C. “… Most Americans are looking for a beer and ice cream diet that works.”

With the diabetes rate in the U.S. nearly doubling over the last 10 years to 7 percent, Gingrich and oth- ers are looking for ways to slow the pandemic through government policy and better education. The rate of adult diabetes in Kentucky is 9 percent.

Gingrich said the growth of diabetes won’t be slowed unless the government takes a number of what he termed “meddling” steps.

Saying that “government can be tremendously powerful at setting the rules of the game,” Gingrich called on Congress to change the laws providing for food stamps and the Women and Infant Care program (WIC) to have “bias in favor of healthy foods.” He also wants the menus for all federally-funded school breakfasts and school lunches to be changed so they can be eaten by children with diabetes and is calling for the sale of junk food to be outlawed in schools before 5 p.m. Gingrich is also seeking the reinstatement of physical education in schools from kindergarten through the 12th grade.

“It has to be real physical education,” Gringrich told a small group of reporters before addressing the summit. “They have to sweat.”

Dr. Ann Albright, an official with the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told the summit that 3,600 new cases of diabetes are diagnosed every 24 hours in the U.S.

Albright, who directs the CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation, said an average of 614 people die each day because of complications from diabetes. She said 225 diabetes patients have an amputation every 24 hours, while 120 suffer kidney failure and 64 go blind.

“That’s the scary, depressing picture of diabetes,” said Albright, who was diagnosed with the disease 40 years ago.

Others speaking at the summit included Miss America 1999 Nicole Johnson, a diabetes patient who now co-hosts “dLife,” a new weekly television show on CNBC, Bob Ingram, vice chairman pharmaceutical of the drug manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline, and Kentucky Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor) from Hazard.

Mongiardo, a Democrat, and Gingrich, a leading Republican, announced they will be working together to establish an electronic health records system and the use of other computer and wireless technology they say is needed to bring the standard of heath-care up to date in the U.S.

Mongiardo said he envisions an e-health system that will make available a patient’s “medical records and histories and the latest research and the latest treatment recommendations no matter where they live.” He said the technology already exists, but has never been implemented, to enable a diabetes patient to have his or her glucose level monitored so that if it reaches the danger level “an ambulance would be in your driveway” almost immediately.

Gingrich said technology is being so poorly utilized in the medical information field that delivery workers for UPS and FedEx are armed with more computer power than the hospitals and doctors’ offices to which they deliver.

“Why is it a $9.95 package can be tracked, but a human being can’t?” Gringrich asked.

Gingrich predicted that Congress will begin working soon in a bipartisan manner to establish new laws addressing electronic medical records and early prevention programs for diabetes and other diseases. He said he will call on Congressional leaders to “pick up on the theme” of bipartisanship that is being made popular by Illinois Senator Barack Obama in his presidential campaign.

“Let’s find some things we can agree on and make this a productive session,” Gingrich said. “I think people are sick of red versus blue. I think they are sick of bipartisanship.”

Mongiardo welcomed the words of Gingrich.

“We must bridge the gap of partisan politics and together make it work,” he said. “Ten years ago, if we had passed each other in the Capitol, Mr. Gingrich and I probably wouldn’t have even spoken to each other.”

Gingrich also called on the participants at the summit to demand changes in the way math and science are being taught in schools in Kentucky and elsewhere in the nation. He said better curriculum is needed in both areas if the country is to remain competitive with other modern countries.

“It is the largest domestic crisis we face,” Gingrich said.

Gingrich cautioned the audience that the U.S. will face “a brawl” when it becomes necessary to tell parents their children are fat and demand changes in lifestyle.

“This is going to be a brawl before it’s over,” he said. “We have got to rethink the contract we have with ourselves as people.”

Paraphrasing a quote from Albert Einstein, he added: “Doing more of what you’re already doing but expecting a different result is a sign of insanity.”


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