By Scott Jung
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 30 million people in the United States live with diabetes. It’s a disease that affects both men and women of all ethnic backgrounds. People with diabetes have a higher risk of serious health complications, such as blindness, kidney failure, heart disease, and stroke. Consequently, the costs of medical expenses and lost wages for people with diabetes are enormous, totaling $327 billion every year. And, as the seventh leading cause of death, diabetes is a disease that quite literally steals both the lives and livelihoods of its victims.
There are two predominant forms of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes occurs when your body is unable to produce insulin, a hormone that plays a vital role in pushing glucose (sugar) from your blood to other parts of the body. Type 1 diabetes tends to occur more commonly at a young age and is not preventable. With type 2 diabetes, your body develops insulin resistance, which means it has a decreased ability to use insulin properly to regulate blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes can occur later in life due to genetics, or often as a result of an unhealthy lifestyle.
Thankfully, new technologies are making both types of diabetes easier to manage and less expensive to treat for both patients and medical professionals. “Diabetes is arguably the chronic condition most ripe for technological disruption,” says Dr. David Ahn, Endocrinologist and Program Director at the Mary and Dick Allen Diabetes Center in Newport Beach, California. “We are in the beginning part of a new renaissance in diabetes management.”
Ahn says that part of what makes diabetes tech so intriguing is that it is increasingly playing a role in all three stages of the disease: prevention for those who are at-risk, management for diabetics, and the quest for a cure.
1. Preventing Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is the more common form of the disease, occurring in more than 90 percent of diabetics. Most often, it develops in adults over age 45, but it’s sadly becoming more common in children and teens. Because it’s the kind of diabetes that is often linked to obesity and lack of exercise, type 2 diabetes can be prevented with proper lifestyle changes.
People are also decreasing their risk of type 2 diabetes with a little help from technology. Big data and predictive analytics are helping healthcare providers identify patients who are at-risk for developing type 2 diabetes based on their health history. Web-based and mobile apps can then help these at-risk patients make lifestyle changes to slow or eliminate the progression of the disease.
When it comes to diabetes prevention, Ahn says, “motivating and enabling people to embrace healthy living now can prevent costly complications down the line.” San Francisco-based Omada and New York City-based Noom are two companies that have developed “digital therapeutics,” programs that assist with the prevention of diabetes through nutrition, weight loss, and life change coaching. Both have been effective: Omada has been clinically proven to decrease the 5-year risk of type 2 diabetes by 30 percent, and 78 percent of Noom users have sustained weight loss longer than one year. It’s the hope that these digital therapeutics will stop the development of diabetes of some of the 84 million Americans with prediabetes and the countless more who are at risk.