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Pandemic leads to new focus on America's dietary illness epidemic

Diabetes Declines
Posted at 4:18 PM, May 06, 2022

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Jason Killins is a food blogger, running a page for gluten-free options.

Last month, he found out his gallbladder was swollen and infected. It needed to be removed.

"Being in Arkansas, I grew up on fried chicken and burgers and fries and sausage," he said. "I feel great, but I'm 50 years old now. And I know I can't keep eating the same foods that I've been eating, you know, 'cause there was a reason my gallbladder shut down."

His doctor says poor health decisions over the years most likely caused his gallbladder to fail.

Killins' situation is not uncommon.

There are about 107 million Americans living with obesity and other dietary illnesses. People with diabetes and heart disease reflect 42% of the country. Those numbers are up 30% since 2000, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

People living with the illnesses were heavily impacted by COVID. Thirty percent of people hospitalized with COVID were considered obese and 20% had diabetes, according to the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Thirty percent of COVID deaths were linked to obesity, diabetes, smoking and hypertension.

"Their immune system is preoccupied and is not able to divert its attention to also fighting off infections at the same time," said Dr. Joseph Henske, director of the diabetes program at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Though his specialty is diabetes, he works with people who are also on the verge of being diagnosed with the disease. Approximately 80 million Americans have prediabetes and many don’t know it.

Henske believes the pandemic is forcing people to focus on getting healthy.

"They take a look and they say, what can I do? How can I improve," he said.

The scare that Killins went through has made him make a quick 180. He has hooked up with dietary coaches and even signed up for some 5K races. He says anyone can take steps to turn their life around, they just need to tap into the motivation to start.

"I would just encourage everyone to think about how, you know, how long they want to be here and what kind of healthy lifestyles they can live," he said.