“Diabetes is truly the epidemic of our time,” says James Gavin, M.D., chief executive officer and medical officer of Healing Our Village, an Atlanta-based advocacy company. “Ebola’s important. HIV/AIDS is important. But diabetes is the epidemic of our time. No organ is spared with diabetes.”
A passionate advocate for community-based interventions, Gavin, a past president of the American Diabetes Association, spends his days training and educating healthcare professionals and minority communities. Recently, he shared his concerns about the growing diabetes epidemic with Black Health Matters.
BHM: What are some of the most alarming statistics about this disease?
Dr. Gavin: One person dies every 10 seconds from the ravages of diabetes. With diabetes, strokes and heart attacks are more common. It is a major chronic disease that drives our trillion-dollar healthcare budget.
BHM: As with many chronic diseases, diabetes affects African Americans in higher numbers. Talk to us about this.
Dr. Gavin: Diabetes favors minorities. It simply likes to be in us. This is important because when you look at the outcomes, amputations are more common in African Americans. This is a dreadful complication; less of you comes out than when you go in. We suffer more end-stage renal failure. Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in diabetes, and premature death from coronary heart disease is greater in African Americans than in whites, Hispanics, and Asians.
BHM: Why does it seem like we’re seeing a spike in diabetes cases?
Dr. Gavin: The companion epidemics are diabetes and obesity. Body mass and weight gain are the leading contributors to the formation of diabetes. The higher your body weight, the more likely you’ll develop diabetes. Approximately 111 million U.S. adults are overweight or obese and have weight-related comorbidity.
BHM: What does this mean?
Dr. Gavin: You can be overweight and fine, but the minute you develop a comorbidity, you have problems. Eighty-eight percent [of overweight or obese people] have at least one weight-related disease, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol.
BHM: How can current obesity trends in this country be changed?
Dr. Gavin: We don’t eat like this because somebody makes us. We eat like this because we like it. My father used to say, “The only way to really stay out of trouble is to avoid it.” You can’t change the disease once you have it. You can’t change your age, your gender or your genetics. But you can change high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, poor glucose control, obesity, physical inactivity, and poor eating habits.
BHM: It seems diabetes news has been alarming for a while.
Dr. Gavin: And now the crisis has reached children. Fifty-eight percent of overweight children have one or more risk factors for diabetes. Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, joint deterioration—these used to be adult diseases. Now they are being diagnosed regularly in children due to trends. Children of color have more obesity and overweight. That’s something about which we must be concerned.
Black Health Matters (BHM) is the leading patient and consumer-focused health information website for African Americans. BHM connects health information seekers to the highest quality health content on the web, shared via social media and disseminated at BHM community-based health events. Committed to making African American families healthier, BHM imparts expert advice on disease management while promoting healthier lifestyles. The result is a compelling health content experience that resonates within the cultural context of the user’s life.