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Many Utahns have a candy or soda vice, but that's exactly what an Olympic medalist is challenging them to give up.
Shannon Bahrke Happe, a moguls skier who won a silver medal at Salt Lake City's 2002 Winter Olympics, issued a 10-day no-sugar challenge Friday on World Diabetes Day.
Bahrke Happe said she plans to begin her 10-day fast from food with added sugar on Sunday, but anyone who begins by Monday could be finished by Thanksgiving on Nov. 27.
"It's going to be hard, but come on, Utah. We've got this!" Bahrke Happe said at the launch of her challenge at the University of Utah.
Representatives of ethnic groups that have particularly high rates of diabetes also attended Friday's challenge. Many are part of Community Faces of Utah, a partnership between the U. and groups of Africans, Pacific Islanders, American Indians and Hispanics.
An estimated 135,000 Utahns have diabetes, and while the state's rate is lower than the national average, both are rising. Utah's diabetes rate was 7.9 percent in 2012, while nationally, 9.3 percent of the population had diabetes.
The same year, the diabetes rate among the American Indian population in Utah was 12.2 percent, and among the state's Pacific Islanders, 12 percent.
Ivoni Malohifoou-Nash, program director with the National Tongan American Society, said she and her three siblings all have Type II diabetes, and she blames it on their change in diet and lifestyle when they came to the United States.
Instead of walking everywhere, eating fish and drinking coconut water like they did as children in Tonga, she said, they began eating fast food and riding in autos in the United States.
Simon Fisher, chief of endocrinology at the U., said one in four of the 29 million Americans who have diabetes don't know it. And, he said, nine in 10 of the 86 million with pre-diabetes don't know it.
"Make no mistake," Fisher said, "it's an epidemic."
The U. is "revolutionizing" its care for diabetes patients, he said, by ensuring that patients see dietitians, nutritionists and physiologists, as well as doctors, when they come for appointments. That team approach will be available at some U. clinics in the Salt Lake Valley, Fisher added.
Bahrke Happe, owner of Silver Bean Coffee Co. in Salt Lake City, also competed in the 2006 Games in Torino, Italy, and retired from competitive skiing after winning a bronze at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010.
She said Friday that the no-sugar challenge won't be that hard for her; she already eats little food with added sugar. But she will have to give up one thing: sweetened vanilla in her lattes.
Free diabetes screenings will be offered at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, 410 Campus Center Drive in Salt Lake City. The documentary "Fed Up," which premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, will be shown at 11 a.m.