The South is known for being the "Bible belt," but a sharp rise in diabetes diagnoses across the Southeast has led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to dub this area the "diabetes belt" in the early 2010s.

Counties in the CSRA, including Aiken County, have a population of people living with diabetes that is significantly higher than the national average. 

According to a 2017 report, the CDC found South Carolina's percentage of adults (18 or older) diagnosed with diabetes to be 10.5 percent. The national median was 9.1 percent.

These findings are echoed by personal finance website WalletHub, which recently released a study on diabetes.

South Carolina was ranked as the country's eighth fattest state in the study. Mississippi came in first.

Diabetes awareness

November is National Diabetes Awareness month.

Aiken Regional Medical Centers recently held its 19th annual Diabetes Luncheon in downtown Aiken. During the luncheon, a crowd of roughly 100 people, mostly seniors, listened to lectures from Aiken Regional staff about the numerous and sometimes deadly health risks that come with diabetes, particularly with how it can affect cardiovascular health.

"It is fairly prevalent in the Aiken area," said Darren Waters, director of outpatient services at ARMC. 

Some long-term complications of diabetes include cardiovascular disease, stroke, eye damage and chronic kidney disease.

"That's why making the right dietary changes are important," said Janet Utz, a cardiologist who was the luncheon's guest speaker. "That's why exercise is so important."

Diabetes, like heart disease, often develops as a health complication of obesity. As obesity increases nationwide, so too do the numerous health consequences that come with it.


According to the CDC, over 70 percent of adults age 20 and older in the U.S. are either obese or overweight. 

Health risks aren't the only factors diabetics must consider. Being diabetic in the U.S. has become much more expensive without health insurance.

Pharmaceutical company Mylan, which acquired the EpiPen in 2007, faced backlash after raising the EpiPen's price to $600 for a set of two injections, from a cost that had previously been below $100.

"There's certain groups of medications, not just insulin … that have basically been treated the same way as the EpiPen was," Utz said.

Obesity is a leading risk factor for developing Type 2 diabetes. Preventative measures and education can help significantly decrease risks for some people.

The CDC reports that people who obtain a high school diploma or other form of higher education are less likely to contract Type 2 diabetes than those who did not complete high school.

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Kristina Rackley is a general assignment reporter with the Aiken Standard.