November will be American Diabetes Month.

Type 2 diabetes is occurring in epidemic proportions in the United States and around the world.

Diabetes is the No. 1 cause of adult blindness, kidney failure requiring dialysis, and non-traumatic amputation in the United States. The risk for heart attack or stroke for someone who has diabetes is two to four times that of someone who does not have the disease. Diabetes often goes hand-in-hand with depression.

Type 2 diabetes results from insulin deficiency and the body's inability to use the insulin that is present. It accounts for the vast majority of U.S. diabetes cases. Type 1 diabetes results from the body's failure to produce insulin. It accounts for 5 to 10 percent of U.S. cases, according to the American Diabetes Association.

It is a ruthless disease that takes a devastating toll on families unless they know how to manage or prevent it.

But Type 2 diabetes can be prevented.

In 2002 the results of the Diabetes Prevention Program were released, and the term "pre-diabetes" came into use. For people who fall into the "pre-diabetes" range, it takes only very moderate, simple lifestyle changes to prevent Type 2 diabetes. The challenge is to get the information out.

Who is at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes?

The list includes people who weigh more than they should; people who have a family history of diabetes; women who have had diabetes during pregnancy or who have given birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds; people who are experiencing stress from illness, injury or life crisis; people who have high blood pressure; people who have high cholesterol; and people from African American, Latino, Native American, Asian, Alaskan Eskimo or Pacific Island heritage.

What are the signs and symptoms of Type 2 diabetes?

Feeling tired; frequent infections and slow-healing cuts or sores; blurred eyesight; problems with sexual function; dry, itchy skin; numbness or tingling in hands or feet; increased hunger; increased thirst; and frequent urination.

Overweight and obesity are the biggest concerns for pediatric health in our nation. Overweight and obesity increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, cancer and diabetes. When former president Bill Clinton (D) and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) announced their 10-year Healthier Generation Initiative in May, Clinton said that if we do not do something as a nation to change the trend, we are raising the first generation of American children whose life expectancy will be shorter than their parents'.

How can Type 2 diabetes be prevented?

Through healthful nutrition, regular physical activity and good stress management.

At www.mypyramid.gov, custom healthful nutrition plans for everyone can be found. There are also several organizations in Southern Maryland that provide courses on preventing Type 2 diabetes. Please understand that fad diets only make things worse and increase the chances of developing Type 2 diabetes.

The best approach is to focus on "healthy lifestyle," not weight, and your body will soon be able to better take care of itself. Crash or fad diets throw the body off balance and make it much more difficult to maintain healthful blood sugar and fat levels. Healthful nutrition brings the body back into balance and makes it possible for your body to function at its best -- and weight loss is a fringe benefit!

What if you already have Type 2 diabetes?

Several organizations provide diabetes self-management courses. These courses provide information about the disease and how to prevent the devastating complications caused by unmanaged diabetes. The American Diabetes Association provides a list of programs available in Southern Maryland at www.diabetes.org. Knowledge is the gateway to good health.

As we prepare for the holidays, let us remind ourselves that good health is all about good choices -- healthful nutrition, regular physical activity and good stress management. Let's take a few minutes to plan and make these last few months of 2005 the healthiest yet.

Carol J. Wright is a registered nurse and a certified diabetes educator in Charles County. She wrote this article in anticipation of special activities next month related to diabetes.