All Mike Tryon had to eat during a Huntley business expo in 2005 was three tacos dressed with some cilantro and onion – an innocent meal that he thought posed no risk.
But a few hours later, the Republican state representative from Crystal Lake stopped by Centegra Health System’s post in the expo to have his blood sugar checked. They informed him that his blood sugar hovered in the 370 range, and that he needed to see a doctor right away.
Tryon later would be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, an increasingly common disease in the United States that Tryon says can often be overwhelming and challenging to manage day after day.
“I’m real open about it because, hopefully, I can use the position I am in to affect change and be more of a model to people who have it,” he said.
Tryon has made diabetes a cornerstone of his policy work during his eight years in the Illinois House, even starting the first legislative diabetes caucus in the nation.
The public outreach and focus on diabetes has become more common across the nation, as health departments and health care groups in the United States recognize National Diabetes Month in November.
Since 1994, the number of adults in Illinois with diagnosed diabetes has nearly doubled to 823,000, representing roughly 8.4 percent of the state’s population, according to recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Nearly 26 million people in the United States have some form of diabetes, a major cause of heart disease and stroke. It is the seventh-leading cause of death in the nation.
The CDC estimates that Americans spend roughly $116 billion total on diabetes-related medical costs.
The statistics are only expected to increase for a disease that in most cases can be managed, Tryon said.
Tryon sees decreased reliance on food chains and corporate supermarkets and increased access to locally grown, fresh produce as a chief priority.
“We have a problem, and the question becomes do we engage public policy to try and prevent it, manage it and reduce the impacts on our economy, our tax bills and our population,” he said.
Diet, exercise and awareness are also vital to keeping a person’s blood sugar and diabetes in check, said Tiffanie Young, diabetes educator at Centegra.
Counselors, dietitians and nurses are available to help patients at Centegra’s Diabetes Center, located throughout the county in Crystal Lake, Huntley, Woodstock and McHenry.
A healthier lifestyle is especially important for Type 2 diabetes, which prevents the body from producing enough insulin because of poor diet or inadequate exercise. Type 1 diabetes generally results from the body’s inability to produce insulin.
Annual checkups with a doctor are also important, since diabetic symptoms often go unnoticed, Young said.
“High blood sugar isn’t something you can’t always feel ... A huge component is knowing the potential risk factors for diabetes and knowing you might not see it,” Young said.
After the fallout from eating tacos eight years ago, Tryon can attest.
“It’s absolutely treatable, and none of the complications have to occur if you manage it properly,” he said. “There is no reason that someone can’t have a normal life.”