Despite many medical breakthroughs, there still isn’t a cure for diabetes. But being aware of this chronic disease and its prevalence in the Latino community can help prevent its onset and delay its effects so you can live a longer and healthier life.
Diabetes didn’t stop Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor from becoming not only the first Latina Justice of the Supreme Court but the first justice with Type 1 diabetes. She was diagnosed with diabetes early in life. As a little girl, she had wanted to become “the Puerto Rican Nancy Drew, girl detective,” but some wise doctors suggested she choose a less active career. Lucky for all of us.
In an interview, Sotomayor told NPR that she had an upsetting experience at a restaurant once while giving herself the insulin shots she has given herself practically her whole life before she eats to help control her blood sugar levels.
While in a restaurant bathroom, just finishing up her injection, another woman saw her. As Sotomayor was leaving the restaurant, she overheard the woman from the restroom say: “She’s a drug addict.” Sotomayor stopped, turned around, and said: “Madam, I am not a drug addict. I am diabetic, and that injection you saw me give to myself is insulin. It’s the medicine that keeps me alive. If you don’t know why someone’s doing something, just ask them. Don’t assume the worst in people.” Then she simply walked away, inspiring her to write the children’s book Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You. “I wanted to talk about children like me,” said Sotomayor.
The frightening reality of Latinos and Diabetes
The American Diabetes Association reported that more Americans die from diabetes every year than AIDS and breast cancer combined. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin (a hormone that regulates blood sugar) or when the body can’t effectively use the insulin it produces. Hyperglycemia occurs when diabetes is not managed correctly and can eventually lead to serious damage to many of the body’s systems, especially nerves and blood vessels.
While 40% of U.S. adults have a chance of developing type 2 diabetes, if you’re Latinx, your chance is more than 50%, with a greater likelihood of developing it at a younger age. And when it hits, it’s much harder on the Latino community with higher rates of diabetes-related kidney failure and vision loss than can lead to blindness.
Although Latinos make up a diverse group with their own history and traditions, all groups within are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes (17%) than non-Hispanic whites (8%). But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that 17% is just a group average since the chance of having type 2 diabetes is closely tied to one’s background. Puerto Ricans, for example, are twice as likely to have type 2 diabetes than South Americans. While Mexican- Americans who have type 2 diabetes are more likely to have heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and problems with circulation.
But it’s not only Latinos who are more prone; African-Americans and Asian- Americans are also more likely to develop prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 34 million people in the United States have diabetes, and another 88 million have prediabetes.
November is National Diabetes Month in the U.S., and the American Diabetes Association wants you to get educated now about whether you are at risk or not. In the U.S., 1 in 3 adults has prediabetes and is at risk for type 2 diabetes, yet nearly 85% don’t know they have it. Start by taking a test to see whether you are at high or low risk of developing it. If you get a score of 5 or above, visit your doctor and get a simple blood sugar test to confirm your result.
Prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes: It’s about prevention and habit-changing
While more than half of Latino adults are expected to develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime, they are naturally more prone to having prediabetes, with blood sugar levels higher than normal but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. Those with prediabetes are at a higher risk of getting type 2 diabetes and other serious health problems, including heart disease and stroke.
Blame it on Latin American genetics, Latino foods that can be high in fat and calories, and the social pressure to overeat at family gatherings to not appear impolite. Latinos also tend to be less physically active than non-Latino whites in general.
The CDC’s National Diabetes Prevention Program (National DPP) can help you prevent or delay type 2 diabetes and improve overall health. You’ll learn the skills needed to lose a modest amount of weight (for example,10 to 14 pounds for a 200-pound person) through healthy eating and being more physically active. Getting at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week, such as brisk walking, also is important. That’s just 30 minutes a day, five days a week.
Eating habits are one of the most important recommendations in the fight and prevention of diabetes. It is important to know that not all foods are aggressors but that you should avoid those that cause your blood glucose levels to skyrocket.
According to the Mayo Clinic, you must be very attentive to the number of carbohydrates in the food you eat and, at the same time, learn to know the portions that your body needs during each meal. In order to delay and prevent diabetes’ dangerous onset, consult the advice of a nutritionist to help you understand and create an eating plan that suits your condition.
Whether you or a loved one develops diabetes due to lifestyle factors or genetics, or both, don’t get discouraged. Studies show that it is possible to delay or prevent type 2 diabetes by eating right, exercising, and losing weight. In Sonia Sotomayor’s words, beating diabetes is about being disciplined and simply knowing how precious life is.