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1 in 8 Americans Diagnosed With Type 2 Diabetes

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Interestingly, 60 percent of respondents know that genetics can be a component of type 2 diabetes.

"We have a public perception that type 2 diabetes is entirely a disease of lifestyle and that is not true," said Dr. Robert Ratner, chief scientific and medical officer of the American Diabetes Association. "There is no question that lifestyle contributes to it, but the problem is one of biology . . . Environment really does play a role but the biology sets them up."

Indeed, certain ethnic groups, including many Native American tribes, bear a disproportionate diabetes burden, Ratner added.

Most adults, whether they actually have diabetes or not, seem fairly knowledgeable about the long-term consequences of the disease, which can include amputation of limbs, blindness, kidney disease and heart disease, the poll found.

There was an exception. Only 39 percent of adults overall and 56 percent of those with type 2 diabetes knew that the disease can cause strokes.

"People need to be aware that this is another disease caused by diabetes that can be prevented," said Nancy Copperman, director of Public Health Initiatives at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, N.Y. "The idea of having a stroke might motivate them to change their lifestyle."

The disease seems to be taking a toll on those polled, with 20 percent acknowledging it has been a "significant" burden and 43 percent saying it has been "somewhat" of a burden for themselves and their families. The burden comes in the form of dietary restrictions, medication costs, eye problems, cardiovascular problems and foot problems.

In addition, 9 percent of people with type 2 diabetes said the condition has rendered them unable to work.

Still, with awareness of genetic factors as well as lifestyle contributors, "you can live a very full and happy life and thrive with diabetes," said Mount Sinai's Tamler.

In people with type 2 diabetes, either the body doesn't produce enough of the hormone insulin or cells can't use the insulin properly. Insulin is necessary for the body to use glucose -- blood sugar -- for energy. When glucose builds up in the blood instead of going into cells, it can lead to diabetes complications, according to the American Diabetes Association.

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