Health Care

Diagnosis: Diabetes

Foiles, whose weight reached 300 pounds at one point, said he gave himself the disease by making poor choices. After his diagnosis, Foiles started taking oral diabetes medications. He worked with Hilton Head Hospital diabetes education coordinator Elizabeth Huggins, who gave him tips on cutting carbohydrates and losing weight. He started exercising and eating better, and lost about 120 pounds. Along with the weight loss, his blood sugar levels and blood pressure went down. And after about a year, he was able to stop taking the medications.

But weight management is an ongoing struggle for Foiles, who said he's gained back about 20 pounds. He said the last time he checked his blood sugar, it was still good, but he knows he needs to get back into the routine of exercising and eating right if he wants to be healthy.

"I guess it's like being an alcoholic," Foiles said. "I've got to get through that day. ... I've got to eat limited quantities, eat the right stuff ... and I haven't been as vigilant in the last year or so as I should've been."

But for others, such as Hilton Head resident John Scanlan, a diagnosis of diabetes wasn't a result of overeating or lack of exercise. The retired Marine had always worked out and eaten right, and his behavior did nothing to cause the onset of the disease. He has Type 1 diabetes, in which the body doesn't produce any insulin because of an autoimmune destruction of cells in the pancreas.

Because he already was taking good care of himself before being diagnosed in 2009, Scanlan said he didn't have to change a whole lot of his habits. What he added to his routine was time for checking his blood sugar levels and injecting himself with insulin twice a day.

"With Type 1 -- boom -- it hits you, and then you have to live with it for the rest of your life," Scanlan said.

Diabetes is a serious condition that can lead to heart disease, kidney failure, blindness or amputation of limbs if not treated. Treatment includes oral medications, insulin therapy and lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise. According to the American Diabetes Association, 23.6 million children and adults in the United States, or 7.8 percent of the population, have diabetes.

Hilton Head Hospital diabetes education coordinator Elizabeth Huggins said prevention is key to changing those statistics.

"It's got to start with each and every one of us and our families," Huggins said. "Taking that time to be a good role model for our kids ... healthier choices, portion control and physical activity. But the tough part is we get caught up in life, and next thing you know those good intentions, they're still good intentions."