Rate of Diabetes Disease in Veterans Double that of General Population

By Robert Ehrman MD

Diabetes Disease in Veterans

It is estimated that today, about 1 in 10 adults in the US has diabetes. That’s a pretty scary idea, but what’s even scarier is the rate of diabetes disease in veterans of the US military. For this group, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that about 1 in 5 veterans suffers from the disease.

Diabetes can be a silent disease

One of the reasons that diabetes is such a dangerous disease is that it often doesn’t cause any symptoms at first—this is why many people call it a “silent killer.” To find out if you have diabetes, you need to have a blood test.

Many people who have diabetes don’t know they have it because they feel normal. It’s important for you to know what the risk factors for diabetes are, so that you can get tested if you’re at risk. Here is a list of the most common risk factors:

  • Obesity—this is the number one risk factor in the US
  • Having a family member with diabetes
  • Ethnicity: Asians, Hispanics, and African-Americans have a higher risk of diabetes than other ethnic groups
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Smoking
  • Having a lot of fat around your belly (as opposed to your legs and hips)

Why are veterans more likely to get diabetes?

Health experts at the VA aren’t exactly sure why so many veterans get diabetes. But what they do know is that just like other people with diabetes, veterans have a lot of complications because of it.

Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease, blindness, and amputation in veterans. In addition, 8 out of 10 vets with diabetes will have a heart attack or stroke.

What can be done to help veterans (and others) who have diabetes?

To take good care of your diabetes, you should:

  1. Check your blood glucose level regularly
  2. Take your medicines as prescribed
  3. Follow a healthy (and diabetes-friendly) eating plan
  4. Make physical activity part of your daily routine

In addition to these basics of good health and good diabetes care, health experts at the VA also suggest the following tips to help make caring for your disease easier:

  • Involve other people in your healthcare plan. This can include exercising with friends, or having family members help you prepare healthy, diabetes-friendly meals at home.
  • Take part in a diabetes support group or talk with a counselor about how you feel about your disease. This can make it easier to control your blood glucose level.
  • Using a pedometer is a great way to keep track of your physical activity. It can also motivate you to do more!

The take home points

  • Diabetes affects about 1 in 10 Americans, but 1 in 5 US veterans.
  • Many people who have diabetes don’t know it because they feel fine.
  • Risk factors for diabetes include obesity, family history of diabetes, smoking, and lack of physical activity.
  • Caring for your diabetes means always checking your blood glucose and taking your medicines on time, following a healthy eating plan, and being physically active.
  • You don’t have to do it all alone—get family and friends involved in your care, join a support group, or talk to a counselor.
  • If you have any questions about what you read here, or to find out if you need to be tested for diabetes, talk to your healthcare provider at your next office visit.


(45 Articles)

Dr. Robert Ehrman, MD is a Board Certified Emergency Physician. He completed his training in Emergency Medicine at Yale-New Haven Hospital in New Haven, CT and Cook County Hospital in Chicago, IL. He always reminds his patients that the more they take care for their health each day, the less likely they are to visit him again in the ER!

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