'America's Oldest Teenager' Gets Serious About Diabetes

Dick Clark speaking out on diabetics' heart disease risks

WEDNESDAY, April 21, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Tan, fit and still youthful at 74, TV legend Dick Clark hardly looks like a poster boy for type 2 diabetes.

So many were shocked when the long-time host of "American Bandstand" announced this week that he was diagnosed with diabetes more than 10 years ago.

The self-confessed workaholic believes that diabetes "shouldn't slow you down," and to prove it, he has embarked on a cross-country tour aimed at educating the public about the deadly links between diabetes and heart disease.

"Two-thirds of people who have diabetes die of either heart disease or stroke," Clark said in an interview in New York City Tuesday. "That was enough for me to stand up and say 'Whoa, I'm in that group.' It just seemed like it was time to get out and shout about it."

That 'shouting' includes teaming up with the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE) for the launch of their new campaign Diabetes: Know the Heart Part, supported by pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co.

Speaking in his trademark baritone, Clark said he hadn't felt the need to tell the wider world about his 1994 diagnosis until recently because "I felt fine -- no symptoms."

"I'm still on top of it," he added.

Following his doctors' advice, Clark now exercises 20 minutes each day to keep his cardiovascular system in good shape.

"I do a stair-climb, I got a little rowing machine, a walker that you can fake walking on a beach with, and then I lift 15-pound weights," he said.

But dietary control has been a bit more challenging, he admitted.

For the first few years after his diagnosis, he said, "I just kept eating whatever I ate and cleaned the plate. But now I try and eat only good food, and less of it."

Clark is also on "all kinds of medication" to control his diabetes, but is reticent to name any particular drug.

"What I take isn't important," he said. "What we've got to get across is 'If you have a problem, go see your caregiver and he or she will prescribe what you need.'"

According to experts, the number of diabetics in the United States is now 18.2 million -- and growing. The vast majority of them (95 percent) have type 2 diabetes.

"It's a real public health epidemic," explained Virginia Zamudio, president-elect of the AADE. Over the past few decades, she said, rising obesity rates and an aging population have combined in "a perfect storm" to send diabetes cases soaring.

While most diabetics focus on keeping their blood sugar under control, Clark and Zamudio pointed out that diabetics are also at elevated risks for the nation's No. 1 killer -- heart disease.

Diabetes greatly increases heart disease risk because chronic high blood sugar weakens blood vessels over time, increasing chances for blocked arteries, heart attack and stroke. In fact, "a person with diabetes who has never had a heart attack is actually more at risk for a heart attack than a person without diabetes who's already had one," Zamudio said.

Clark said it was those types of grim statistics that prompted him to speak out about his condition, so others might get the message. "Of people who have diabetes, two-thirds of them don't know this tie to heart disease," he explained.

Current guidelines from the American Diabetes Association advise that diabetics stick to healthy diets and regular exercise programs that reduce their cardiovascular risk, and take cholesterol-lowering medications. Another group, the American College of Physicians, announced similar guidelines just this week.

"It's not just about managing blood sugar anymore," Zamudio said. "It's about managing risks for heart disease, too."

Which doesn't mean that diabetes has to completely take over your life. -- Dick Clark, busier than ever, is proof of that.

Through his production company, Clark helps produce hugely popular awards shows such as the "Golden Globes," the "Academy of Country Music Awards" and the "Daytime Emmy Awards," as well as such top-rated series such as NBC's "American Dreams."

His "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve" is an American institution, and he recently secured the rights to all U.K.-based franchises of Krispy Kreme Donut shops.

"Diabetes shouldn't slow you down," Clark said. "I should've retired God knows how many years ago, but I didn't, because I find retirement boring. I just love to keep busy."

More information

For a free copy of the brochure, dial 1-800-224-4089 toll-free. And for even more information on diabetes and diabetes control, check out the American Diabetes Association.

SOURCES: Dick Clark; Virginia Zamudio, RN, MSN, president, American Association of Diabetes Educators
Consumer News