Sugar Blues

Diabetes affects much more than your diet. And what you don't know about the disease could kill you.

produce sufficient amounts of insulin (a hormone that regulates the amount of sugar in the blood), or when the body doesn’t use the insulin the pancreas produces, resulting in a raised blood sugar level. The effect diabetes can have on the body can be disastrous. They range from damaged nerves and blood vessels; retinopathy (a disease of the retina that can cause blindness); kidney failure; a hardening of the arteries, which can lead to stroke; and poor circulation in the legs and feet, which can lead to ulcers, infections, and eventual amputation. Diabetes can also lead to coma and death.

The good news is, with diet and exercise, Type II diabetes is manageable, and people with the disease can live long, healthy lives. The bad news is that African Americans and Hispanics suffer disproportionately from this disease, and the numbers

are growing. There are presently 2.8 million African Americans living with diabetes-13% of the population. Diabetes among blacks has quadrupled over the last 30 years.

Of those with Type II diabetes, 90% are obese, a condition where there is too much fat in the body. Body fat is measured via Body Mass Index (BMI cutpoints), a number calculated from your height and weight. Cutpoints at 30 and up indicate obesity, which is more than just being overweight. Obesity is a growing problem in the black community. “Certainly there is a genetic component to diabetes though we’re not exactly sure which genes are responsible,” says Dr. David P. Pryor, founder and president of, and the associate medical director of WellPoint Health Networks in California. “It is clear, however, that anyone who has a blood relative with diabetes is at risk for developing the disease.”

Kevin Pemberton only learned that his father had diabetes after he was diagnosed. It was not something they discussed. “One of the big things I encourage young, black people to do is know your family history and talk about it,” he says. Because of his illness, he has encouraged his twin brother and two younger brothers to get tested. His mother has since changed her cooking and eating habits as well.

Pemberton, who says he had a tremendous sweet tooth, is no longer eating the sausage, eggs, bread, two doughnuts, and coffee he used to eat for breakfast. “Everyday I was really piling on food and there were no vegetables,” he says.

There are social and economic factors that contribute to diabetes and other African American health concerns. “We don’t have many tennis courts and parks [in our communities]. And many of our grocery stores don’t carry fresh fruit. Instead we have all these fast food restaurants,” says Dr. Lenore T. Coleman, a clinical pharmacist who is a certified diabetes educator in Virginia. She is also the creator of www .blackand and co-author of Healing Our Village: A Self-Care Guide to Diabetes Control ($15.95; Healing Our Village Publications). Coleman adds that with so many black women single-parenting and providing elder care as well, carving out time for health issues can

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