By Jackie Rainford Corcoran EBS Health Columnist

We’ve got a big problem on our hands, and it’s called type 2 diabetes (T2D). Oddly, this disease is nearly 100-percent preventable.

T2D develops when the body becomes resistant to insulin or when the pancreas stops producing enough insulin. Exactly why this happens is unknown, although genetics and environmental factors, such as excess weight and inactivity, seem to be contributing factors.

Type 2 diabetes has reached epidemic proportions in our country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one out of every 10 Americans currently has T2D. They predict that by 2050, as many as one out of every three of us will have it if the current trend continues.

The Mayo Clinic identifies associated complications as: heart disease, nerve damage, kidney/eye/foot damage, hearing impairment, skin conditions and Alzheimer’s disease.

In 2012, we spent an estimated $245 billion treating it and it’s the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. How did we get here? Let’s look at a few reasons:

In 1980, the U.S. government introduced dietary guidelines that called for a diet lower in fat and higher in refined carbohydrates like pastas, cereals and breads. As we complied and changed our diets we also changed our collective health. According to the CDC, 5.5 million Americans were diagnosed with diabetes in 1980. By 2014, it reached 22 million.

Americans are consuming 400 to 500 more calories per day since 1980, by eating meals out of the home, eating highly processed foods and drinking soft drinks and fruit juices.

T2D is considered by most doctors to be an incurable, progressive and degenerative disease—meaning it gets worse over time. What can we do about it? Here are a few key ideas:

First and foremost, we must fully embrace that type 2 diabetes is preventable.

While genetics play a role in who gets the disease, it often is not the determining factor. Having the genetic marker means that if you have an unhealthy lifestyle, your chances of triggering the disease are greater.

Regularly eating whole foods prepared at home and drinking water instead of sweetened drinks, will go a long way in keeping us healthy—whether we’re genetically predisposed or not.

Physical activity, even a 10 to 20 minute walk once a day, will help stabilize blood sugar.

We don’t have to give up sugar altogether, but it would be wise for parents and teachers to avoid using sweets as a reward and to find healthier alternatives during celebrations. If your school isn’t getting the message, consider presenting a petition to the school board asking that unhealthy snacks and drinks be removed—this is the opposite of cruelty, it’s love. We must do what it takes to raise healthy, high functioning children.

Healthy food is not just for the rich and it’s not elitist. New York Times Magazine food columnist Mark Bittman put this myth to rest when he proved that feeding a family of four at McDonald’s costs a minimum of about $23, compared to only $14 for a home-roasted chicken with vegetables, salad, and milk; or a mere $9 for canned beans with bacon, green peppers, and onions. The average annual economic burden of having T2D is $10,970, according to the December 2014 Diabetes Care report. That’s expensive.

Make health a priority in your family; it’s more important than screen time. Get out and move and prepare food together.

As Winston Churchill said, “It’s no use saying, ‘We are doing our best.’ You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.”

Jackie Rainford Corcoran is an IIN Certified Holistic Health Coach and Consultant, a public speaker and health activist. Contact her at jackie@corehealthmt.com.