The aging population of the U.S. rancher isn't ground breaking news; United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics say the average age is 57. Of course, with age, comes a myriad of health problems and diseases. One of the fastest-growing of health issues is diabetes. In addition, celiac disease and food allergies are becoming more common.
For ranch families wanting to get healthier in 2012, these three conditions are ones to be mindful of; however, often changing a lifetime of habits can be difficult.
Nancy Miller, MS, RD, LN, CDE, works at Avera Queen of Peace Hospital in the nutrition education department. She presented "Food Allergies, Diabetes and Celiac Disease - What is the Link?" At the 9th Annual Women in Blue Jeans (WIBJ) Conference on Jan. 20, in Mitchell, SD.
"There is a lot of confusion about these health issues," Miller said. "What is the difference between food allergies, diabetes or celiacs disease? There are certainly some ties, but there are some distinct differences, as well."
A food allergy is a serious immune response to eating specific foods or food additives. The reactions to these foods can vary and can include: a tingling sensation around the mouth and lips, hives and even death.
"Food allergies that are most common include: peanut butter or nuts, milk, strawberries and various fruits and seafood," Miller explained. "Currently, the FDA requires eight main allergens to be clearly stated on food labels including: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans."
Based on 2009 data from the Centers of Disease Control, "four out of every 100 children are effected."
There is a diagnosis to identify food allergies," said Miller, referencing a skin prick test or blood test. "It's important to combine a test and medical history to confirm a food allergy diagnosis."
Celiac disease is considered to be rare, but new studies show that it's more common than originally thought. Celiac disease is genetically-linked, and like food allergies, it's also an immune-mediated disease.
"Now, we know that it's a multi-system disease that impacts more than just the stomach; it's a genetic, inheritable disease," Miller said. "Approximately, one in 122 people have it; however, only 3 percent of these have been diagnosed. Over 2.1 million Americans are undiagnosed."
With celiac disease, when gluten is consumed, an immune response is triggered, and the small intestine is damaged. Eventually, the lining of the small intestine becomes so damaged that it loses its ability to absorb nutrients from food."
To diagnose, a blood test, small bowel biopsy and a response to a gluten-free diet is required. With this diet, strict adherence is required and is needed for life. Most damage to small intestine improves in 3-6 days, but most symptoms won't improve for 3-6 months.
Diabetes is another health monster that plagues many aging ranchers. Is it inherited? Miller explained that Type-2 needs help to get the sugar from the food into the cell, while Type-1 doesn't produce insulin that helps to put the sugar from the food into the cell. Gestational can also occur during pregnancy.
"We are getting heavier as a nation," Miller said. "As we become more overweight, we can quickly develop Type-2 diabetes, but we are even seeing it in our children. The older you get, the higher your risk of getting diabetes.
Once you get Type-1, it will never go away. Type-2 can never completely go away either, but it can be managed with weight loss and a good diet. Once you splurge, the symptoms will quickly flare up. See a dietician to help maintain and control the diet."
A blood test is also required to diagnose diabetes, as well as testing fasting glucose levels. If diagnosed with a food allergy, celiac disease or diabetes, planning ahead is crucial.
"With any of these diagnosis, you will need to start planning your meals," Miller advised. "Check restaurants ahead of time to preview gluten-free menus; pack your lunches; learn to be a smart shopper. Seek out a registered dietician, who can help you complete a nutrition evaluation, provide education-based suggestions based on your needs and help solve health problems."
The topic of health may not be the first that comes to mind when attending an agriculture conference; however, the aging rancher and the health challenges agriculture families face have a huge impact on the success or failure of the operation.
The WIBJ committee hopes this topic will shed light on some health concerns that plague agriculture families and encourage them to take action toward better health in 2012.