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US diabetes rates rise sharply, but ND, Minnesota among states with lowest prevalence of disease

Elizabeth Meyer, a registered dietitian at Sanford Health in Fargo, tests her blood sugar level as part of a daily regimen to control her diabetes. Helmut Schmidt / The Forum

FARGO - Diabetes rates jumped across the United States between 1995 and 2010, according to recently released data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

But northern-tier states, including North Dakota and Minnesota, are still among those with the lowest prevalence of the disease - if only because residents are not caught in a "culture of obesity," a local expert said.

In the Nov. 16 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the CDC reports that the average diabetes rate for the 50 states, District of Columbia and Puerto Rico leaped from 4.5 percent in 1995 to 8.2 percent in 2010.

The average increases were highest in the South and Appalachia, with Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia all 10 percent or more in 2010. Puerto Rico averaged 12.7 percent.

But in the northern regions, while diabetes rates also rose, several states kept their averages between 6 and 6.9 percent in 2010, the CDC found.

• In North Dakota, the diabetes rate was 6.2 percent in 2010. That was up from 3.6 percent in 1995.

• Minnesota had a 6.4 percent diabetes rate in 2010, up from 3.1 percent.

• South Dakota had a 6.2 percent diabetes rate in 2010, up from 2.8 percent.

• Montana had a 6.3 percent rate in 2010, up from 2.9 percent.

Other states with rates below 6.9 percent in 2010 include Alaska (6 percent), Colorado (6.1 percent), Oregon (6.6 percent), Wyoming (6.8 percent), Wisconsin (6.6 percent), Vermont (6.1 percent), and Connecticut (6.7 percent).

"What it boils down to is there is a very large prevalence of obesity in the South," says Helen Levitt, a registered nurse and a certified diabetes educator at Sanford Health in Fargo.

In that part of the country, there is what she calls "a culture of obesity," where eating fried, high-fat foods and big portions is normal, as is being obese.

Obesity is connected to insulin resistance for Type 2 diabetes, she said.

Nationwide, there were 18.8 million people diagnosed with diabetes in 2010. An estimated 7 million had undiagnosed diabetes, the CDC reports.

In northern-tier states, the culture is not tied to body type, Levitt said.

Still, we are bombarded with advertising that pushes us to eat high-fat foods, Levitt said.

Fast-paced lives leave little time to cook healthier, and even as portion sizes have ballooned, we maintain a "clean plates club" mindset, Levitt said.

To beat that requires a change in mindset and some changes in lifestyle, said Elizabeth Meyer, a registered dietitian with Sanford Health.

Meyer, who has had Type 1 diabetes for 15 years, said that with food, "everything in moderation" is her mantra.

Though Levitt says portion size is something that needs extra attention.

For example, 40 years ago, an 8-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola with about 100 calories was considered normal. Now, a single serving is 20 ounces and has about 240 calories.

Meyer and Levitt said exercise doesn't have to come in one 30- or 45-minute shot, but can come in five minutes bites by parking away from mall doors or taking short walks during work breaks.

"If you do five minutes here, five minutes there, it can still add up to 30 minutes," Meyer said.

To learn more, visit the CDC's diabetes Web page at