Almost one-third of New Yorkers are in danger of developing diabetes as adults, and the risk greatly increases as a person gets older, according to a recent statewide Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey.

The Genesee County Health Department suggest that unfortunately, only about half of all New York adults who have diabetes don't know it. The onset of diabetes in adults is often marked by few and mild symptoms. You can have it for years without knowing it. People with diabetes are at increased risk for foot amputations, and cardiovascular, eye and kidney diseases. Diabetes-related death is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States.

The survey, conducted in 1997 by the New York State Department of Health and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), involved telephone interviews of residents selected by random-digit dialing methods.

The survey focused on Type 2 diabetes, which mainly affects adults over age 45. About 90 to 95 percent of all people with diabetes have Type 2. (Type 1 diabetes develops most often in children and young adults, although it can appear at any age.)

The survey estimated that about 15 percent of adults under age 45 are in danger of developing Type 2 diabetes. The risk increases to about 31 percent of those between 45 and 64 years old. More than 75 percent of those over 65 years old are at risk of developing diabetes.

Diabetes is a disease that affects the body's ability to produce or use insulin, a hormone that allows the cells to turn sugar into energy. Symptoms of diabetes include frequent and excessive urination, excessive thirst, and weight loss despite increasing appetite. People with diabetes may also experience occasional blurred vision; unusual tiredness or drowsiness; frequent or recurring skin, gum or bladder infections; and tingling or numbness in the hands or feet.

People who are at greater risk of developing diabetes are those who are overweight; physically inactive; have a parent, brother or sister who has diabetes; or have high blood pressure or abnormal blood cholesterol levels. Hispanics, African-Americans and Native Americans have a greater risk than others of developing diabetes.

According to the Genesee County Health Department, if you engage in regular physical activity, control your weight and avoid tobacco, you can reduce your risk of developing diabetes and reduce the complications if you already have the disease. Early detection and treatment can reduce the most severe complications of diabetes.

The American Diabetes Association and the Genesee County Health Department recommends that everyone over the age of 45 be tested for diabetes. Those who are at greater risk of diabetes should be tested at a younger age.

If you are overweight, or if diabetes is in your family, you should ask your health care provider about taking a simple diabetes test. If you have diabetes, lifestyle changes and prescribed medication may help you feel better and reduce your risk for complications of the disease, according to the Health Department.

For more information about diabetes, write to the New York State Health Department at: Diabetes, P.O. Box 2000, Albany, NY 12220.