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by Peter J. Nebergall, Ph.D.

I just encountered two similar articles, and the problem they discuss is serious. The first, in the excellent online weekly DIABETES IN CONTROL, used statistics from the National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, to underline the problem of obesity in the United States. The second, from the English paper the TELEGRAPH, made a similar presentation for England. The English obesity stats are bad; the American ones are worse. We are a fat people, and our children are increasingly following in our footsteps.

Type 2 diabetes occurs, becomes overt, when two factors occur together. The first is genetic: an inherited predisposition to insulin resistance. The second is environmental: an unhealthy lifestyle. If you have the gene (and millions do -- there's nothing we can do about it), but you eat healthily, stay fit and remain active, diabetes will probably stay in its closet. But a combination of genetic trait and couch potato lifestyle will likely bring your diabetes out into the light -- and you don't want this.

The English article, published October 10, highlights how an increasing number of children as young as six years old (8.4 percent) are now clinically obese. If these children carry the gene for diabetes, their odds on developing overt type 2 diabetes shoot way up (and this is precisely why we no longer call type 2 "adult onset diabetes" anymore.)

The English writers highlight inactivity. As the UK follows the American trend, transiting from a culture of doers to one of watchers, adults cease regular exercise. Children learn from their parents ...

This is a medical problem, but it is as much a cultural one. It is the job of government, church leaders, cultural leaders, mentors and parents, to foster healthy habits in the young. When they don't, when WE don't, laziness bubbles to the top, and we call it "convenience ..." Right.

The American article, looking at very similar statistics, focused on diet as problem. Food is abundant here, and we eat 'til we're full. We OVER-eat, far past our biological needs. Our 27 percent increase in type 2 diabetes (since 1997) and "lifetime risk" of now one in three (a projected one in three Americans born this year will become diabetic) is in large part due to stuffing our faces. And our children watch us eat.

We can't fight the gene for type 2 diabetes -- we haven't even identified it yet. What we can do is recover a sense of physical values, and treat our bodies as if someone had given us a Ferrari to drive: Feed it properly, keep it in good tune, and treat it wisely. What an idea.

The obesity crisis both articles highlight is solvable -- not by our doctors, or by far-off researchers in white lab coats -- but by us -- and our weapons are both diet and exercise. It's up to us to show some respect for our bodies, move them more, and stop stuffing our faces. Our children will follow our lead. Yes, the doctors can give us medications, but we can, we must, solve this problem ourselves.