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University of Florida Diabetes Center consultant Anastasia Albanese-O'Neill and Mike Halloran,
chairman of the Rotary Club of Jacksonville Program Committee.
Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Mar. 4, 201412:00 PM EST

One way to reduce diabetes cases in kids? They should eat more dirt

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

It could be that children aren’t eating enough dirt.

That’s one of the theories about why the number of Americans diagnosed with diabetes is rising.

“It’s not an overstatement to say diabetes is the disease that will live on in this generation,” said Anastasia Albanese-O’Neill, consultant at the University of Florida Diabetes Center. “The number of people in the U.S. with diabetes continues to rise faster every year.”

She addressed the Rotary Club of Jacksonville on Monday at the Omni Downtown.

Albanese-O’Neill said 25 million people in America have diabetes with as many as 6 million not knowing they have it. Diabetes is increasing at the rate of 1.6 million cases, which costs $245 billion in health care costs.

Diabetes occurs when the pancreas no longer produces insulin, which cells need to process glucose.

Type 1 diabetes is no longer referred to as “juvenile diabetes” since adults are being diagnosed, she said. One of the latest hypotheses about Type 1 diabetes is that it may be an autoimmune issue.

“There is an environmental component we do not understand. Something triggers the body to destroy the pancreas. Something in the environment flips the switch,” Albanese-O’Neill said.

Children may not be exposed to enough environmental material early in life and it’s possible that the widespread use of antibiotics to treat childhood illnesses could also be contributing to the increase in diabetes.

“It could be that kids are too clean. Kids are supposed to eat dirt. It’s what trains their immune system,” she said.

Type 2 diabetes, often called “adult onset” diabetes, can be avoided with diet and exercise before a patient requires glucose monitoring and insulin injections.

She said 79 million Americans have prediabetes, which can be treated through inexpensive ways.

“When people lose 7 percent of their body weight and exercise for 30 minutes a day, they can reduce their risk of diabetes by 58 percent,” Albanese-O’Neill said.

Progress through research has made diabetes so manageable that a person with the disease has virtually the same life expectancy as a person without diabetes.

One of the latest breakthroughs in treatment was approved by the Food and Drug Administration this year. It is what Albanese-O’Neill called the “artificial pancreas.” A pump worn by the patient can meter insulin into the bloodstream 24 hours a day based on blood glucose measurements from a sensor also worn by the patient. The two components are connected via Bluetooth.

Other research could lead to a way to use a patient’s skin cells to produce new cells that would produce insulin. Albanese-O’Neill said there one day could be a vaccine that would protect people from diabetes.

Club President Bill Mason gave the members an update on Rotary International’s worldwide campaign to eradicate polio.

A year ago, 402 new cases of polio were diagnosed in 12 months, but in the past six months, only 18 cases have appeared — 15 in Pakistan and three in Afghanistan.

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