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Friday, December 3, 2021

Boyd: The bitter side of sugar

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Sugar ain’t sweet.

That’s a lesson I learned as a child when I heard adults discuss the seriousness of having “sugar.” I later learned sugar was vernacular for diabetes, a condition where there’s too much blood sugar, or glucose, in the bloodstream. The high levels of blood glucose are caused because the pancreas doesn’t produce the hormone insulin or the body doesn’t properly use the insulin.

November is Diabetes Awareness Month. According to the American Diabetes Association, “More than 738,000 children and adults in Indiana suffer from all forms of diabetes, including type 1, type 2 and gestational. Of these, an estimated 160,000 have diabetes but don’t know it. Additionally, at least 1.7 million Hoosiers are living with prediabetes, putting them at risk for type 2 diabetes in the future. Today, it is estimated that 1 in 3 children born after the year 2000 in the U.S. will develop diabetes.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about 50% of Black people born after 2000 will be diagnosed with diabetes in their lifetime.

Type 2 diabetes, the most common, used to happen to “old” people. Now, we’re diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes younger and younger. The longer you have diabetes, the longer you’re at risk for health issues such as vision impairment, kidney disease and cardiovascular disease. Diabetes also can lead to amputations. Having sugar definitely ain’t sweet — especially for Black people.

That’s why this issue of the Recorder is dedicated to diabetes coverage. Too many of us have diabetes. If you don’t have diabetes, chances are you know someone who does. On Dec. 9, we also will stream a virtual panel discussion on Facebook.

Diabetes is personal for me. Not only do I know people who are living with diabetes and have had amputations because of the condition, I had gestational diabetes during my second pregnancy. While I’m not diabetic now, having gestational diabetes means I’m high risk for developing diabetes. Exercise, healthy eating — and eating the correct portion — are vital to keeping diabetes at bay. Honestly, though, those three components are key to avoiding diabetes for anyone, and even more important for those who’ve been diagnosed with diabetes to lead healthy lives.

But here’s the thing with diabetes, just like most things in this country when it comes to Black folks, we play a role in health outcomes as do the conditions in which we live. It’s easy to tell someone to eat healthier foods, but if that person lives in a food desert, that’s an added challenge that someone who lives near a grocery store doesn’t have to consider. It’s easy to tell someone to exercise regularly, but if that person can’t afford a gym membership or works two jobs, the gym may be on the backburner. Sure, you can walk outside when the weather is warm, but what about rainy or cold days or when it’s snow on the ground? Those days are challenging for even the most dedicated fitness enthusiast.

Yes, personal accountability will always play a role in our conversations about health, but we can’t pretend the prevalence of diabetes is a Black problem or Black people are unhealthy. America is the problem. America is unhealthy. We live in a society where convenient, processed, high-fat and high-sugar foods are prevalent and cheap! We stock up on non-perishables because they last longer than fresh produce.

So while I’m not letting America off the hook, I’m not letting us off either. The amazing thing about diabetes is often you can control it with proper diet and exercise. If you have diabetes, you know what you should and shouldn’t eat. If you love someone who’s diabetic, you know what that person should and shouldn’t eat. If you’re at the dinner table on Thanksgiving (or any other time) and you see your relative with a plate fit for three people, say something. If you see your relative going for that third piece of sweet potato pie, call out that relative. If you’re that relative, stop it! Don’t overindulge. Let’s hold ourselves and our loved ones accountable for their eating habits. I’d rather deal with someone fussing at me because I care about his or her health than have to visit that relative in the hospital.

If the weather’s nice, go for a family walk. I know it sounds corny, but it could be the start of a new tradition. If it’s not nice, walk in place while watching the football game. Don’t stop there. Find ways to exercise together, even if it’s just a few minutes a day. There’s an app for that!

I rarely hear anyone call diabetes sugar nowadays, so I know we can evolve. Let’s evolve to do our part to take care of each other. We have to.

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