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Capt. Deborah Hoffman, a pediatric nurse and certified diabetes educator with the 35th Medical Group at Misawa Air Base, Japan, pricks her finger to demonstrate one way diabetics can test their blood sugar.

Capt. Deborah Hoffman, a pediatric nurse and certified diabetes educator with the 35th Medical Group at Misawa Air Base, Japan, pricks her finger to demonstrate one way diabetics can test their blood sugar. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Mirroring a nationwide trend, Misawa is seeing more cases of diabetes diagnosed in younger adults and children.

With that trend in mind, the 35th Medical Group is looking at expanding its diabetes education program, officials said.

Diabetics already can meet with Capt. Deborah Hoffman, a pediatric nurse and certified diabetes educator, for one-on-one consultations.

She hopes to launch a program this fall that would bring in different specialists at the hospital to speak to diabetics about health issues related to the disease.

The medical profession’s role in treating diabetes is increasingly interdisciplinary, Hoffman said.

“It is a paradigm shift in the way of thinking,” she said. “We’re looking at not just diet, but activity, eating habits. It’s not just checking blood sugar, but it’s a lifestyle change.”

Left unchecked, diabetes can cause a host of complications, from blindness to kidney failure.

Hoffman, whose grandmother died of diabetes, said her goal is to help diabetics understand the disease’s moving parts.

“If you can understand what’s going on in your body, it will help you understand why we tell you certain things in the doctor’s office,” she said. “That’s kind of my job: to tell them why.”

In 2004, about 1.4 million adults between 18 and 79 years old were diagnosed with diabetes in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. From 1997 through 2004, the number of new diabetes cases increased by 54 percent.

Type 2 diabetes accounts for about 90 percent of newly diagnosed cases, according to the National Institutes of Health. Once called “adult-onset” diabetes because it usually occurs later in life, Type 2 diabetes is becoming more prevalent in children and young adults, with some researchers linking the prevalence to obesity and lack of exercise.

Medical officials at Misawa estimate that 55 of the approximately 13,000 base residents are diabetic — with about half of those newly diagnosed cases. Most are civilians and dependents, a mix of Tricare beneficiaries, schoolteachers, contractors and civilian personnel. One is a child.

In addition, “we have several children that we’re monitoring for diabetes but have not been diagnosed,” Hoffman said.

Those kids may get additional help through another new program that the 35th Medical Group plans to launch this fall. The initiative is aimed at overweight children and teenagers, according to Maj. James Stryd, 35th Aeromedical Squadron health promotion flight commander. Working with schools, health providers hope to address families in a forum about issues ranging from nutrition to fitness, Stryd said.

Styrd said Misawa is running “right at or just below the national numbers for kids at risk for obesity or being overweight.”

Most common types of diabetes

Type 1: The pancreas, the organ that makes insulin, does not work correctly. The cells that produce insulin are damaged or destroyed, so the body makes little or no insulin. Usually occurs in children or young adults.

Type 2: The body makes some insulin but not enough, or the insulin the body makes does not work correctly. More common in overweight, older adults, but also can be dianosed in young people.

Common signs or symptoms

Tired all the timeAlways thirstyNeed to urinate oftenBlurry visionAlways hungrySudden weight lossWounds that won’t healNumb or tingling hands or feetSource: Educational materials provided by the 35th Medical Group

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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