Many people don't learn about Type 2 diabetes until it's too late. They often learn about its causes after they've been diagnosed, and they often learn about its complications after their bodies have begun to break down.
Some who have the chronic disease never come to understand it. But it can be prevented and controlled. People have to eat right and exercise. If they develop the disease, living a healthy lifestyle becomes even more imperative -- a long-term choice of life or death.
Consider the facts:
• Each year, tens of thousands of Americans die from Type 2 diabetes, costing our country billions of dollars.
• More than 20 million Americans have Type 2 diabetes. By 2050, it's estimated that 1 in 3 will have the chronic disease.
• About 79 million people -- more than one-third of U.S. adults -- are pre-diabetic.
• People who have Type 2 are twice as likely to die as those who don't.
• It cost the U.S. $245 billion in 2012, a 41 percent increase since 2007. The costs continue to skyrocket as more Americans become obese and sick with the disease.
Type 2 used to be known as adult-onset diabetes because it typically affected people 40 and older. Now, it affects kids in middle school and sometimes even toddlers.
Jayquan Flowers, 14, said he was stressed and scared when learned he had diabetes three years ago. The illness has affected generations of his family. His mother, father and older brother also have the disease. Experts say it doesn't matter what age a person is diagnosed. Average lifespan is 25 years after diagnosis. Jayquan's mother, Annette, recently decided she had to make some healthy changes to better control her diabetes and to set a good example for her kids.
Once someone develops the disease, she can live a healthy life provided she manage it daily. Mismanagement often leads to blindness, heart attack, high blood pressure, amputations, kidney failure, stroke and death.
But it's easier said than done. Ignoring the disease doesn't have immediate repercussions, which leads some people down a path toward more health problems.
Barbara Eckert, 68, has had Type 2 diabetes for 15 years. She didn't come to understand the disease until her diabetes was out of control. While on a journey to get healthier, she faces a mountain of health problems that make losing weight and exercising that much harder.
There's no medication or procedure that can cure the illness. However, if people eat right, exercise and maintain a healthy weight, they can lower their chances of developing the disease or improve their chances of avoiding complications if they have it.
Experts say complications typically occur after 15 to 20 years of uncontrolled blood sugar. At that point, it can be too late to change course.
Five years ago, Deb Owens' kidneys failed as a result of poorly controlled diabetes and she had to start dialysis. The procedure -- which she has for 31 2 hours a day, three days a week -- has taken over her life. It has drained her energy and forced her to stop working, something she loves, as she waits for a transplant.
With more people developing the disease, experts have learned that sharing knowledge isn't enough when it comes to educating people who have diabetes. Beating the disease demands strict self-management, which requires people to make long-lasting behavior changes.
Over the years, diabetes education programs have shifted their aim toward helping people make those difficult changes to control their blood sugar and live better lives.