By Mary Brophy Marcus, USA TODAY
Responding to a diabetes epidemic that many experts consider a health crisis, Oprah Winfrey is dedicating her show today to the disease. She will announce an opportunity for all Americans to take a free test that can tell whether a person is at risk for type 2 diabetes.
"Diabetes is a ticking time bomb. It's a silent killer," Winfrey said during a taping of Thursday's show. She expressed particular concern for African Americans, who are 80% more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than non-Hispanic whites.
The episode will feature Oprah's health compatriots, celebrity physician Dr. Mehmet Oz and exercise physiologist Bob Greene. It also will have an audience full of fans with diabetes, including a group of church women from Dayton, Ohio, who e-mailed the entertainer about their weight worries.
Oprah and her health team will encourage viewers to go to their nearest 24-hour Walgreens pharmacy Friday to get a free blood glucose reading that will tell them whether they could be at risk for type 2 diabetes.
Results indicating whether a person is at risk will be available right away.
Walgreens spokesman Jim Cohn says that the pharmacy chain is in all 50 states and that almost 90% of Americans are within 30 miles of a location offering the test. He says pharmacists, nurses, and nurse practitioners will be on hand Friday and over the next two weeks at select stores to give the tests to those over 18. For information, visit walgreens.com/diabetes.
Walgreens will offer diabetes education to anyone who could be at risk for type 2, when the body's cells can not properly use the carbohydrates for energy. The test, however, is not an accurate predictor of type 1 diabetes, which occurs when the pancreas does not produce the hormone insulin, which helps cells metabolize carbohydrates.
"Oprah's doing a good thing," says Duke endocrinologist Susan Spratt. "Any time a diabetes diagnosis can be made early is a good thing."
Unmanaged over the long term, type 2 diabetes can lead to nerve damage, kidney and heart disease, amputations and blindness, Spratt says.
Walgreens can screen people for diabetes even if they have eaten before the test. A simple finger prick for a drop of blood will be required.
Spratt says anyone whose test flags them as at-risk should follow up with his doctor.
"A lot of the time people can have a normal fasting blood glucose test, but their post-meal glucose test can be high enough to be considered in the diabetes or pre-diabetes range," she says.
A second check is always important, Spratt say. "You don't diagnose someone with diabetes after just one abnormal number."
Because 60% of Americans are either overweight or obese and those are the people most at risk for type 2 diabetes, Winfrey's episode will spend a chunk of time focusing on healthful eating, says Oz, who adds that they will discuss avoiding highly processed "white foods," which are often higher in carbohydrates, to drop pounds.
Spratt says people shouldn't ditch carbs altogether, though.
"We all need carbohydrates in a healthy diet, even if you have diabetes. Just stick to healthy ones, like whole-grain breads and fruit instead of fruit juice," she says.
Oz says Winfrey will take viewers into a hospital to meet a woman with diabetes on dialysis, who is a double amputee.
"It's a very emotional story as she tells America what diabetes did to her and wishes she'd been more aggressive about treating it," Oz says.
Says Richard Bergenstal, the American Diabetes Association's president of medicine and science: "We hope that the show will convey the seriousness of diabetes. We also hope the show will empower people and provide hope. Many of the devastating complications of diabetes can be prevented or lessened."
Says Oz: "The main goal is to give people a wake-up call about diabetes, then leave them with a request that they get their numbers tested."
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