Diabetes doesn’t care if you are young, rich or have a life. In that way, it is an equal-opportunity offender. On the other hand, as many experts note during National Diabetes Month, diabetes affects many more Blacks than Whites and takes most by surprise.
Just ask Randy Jackson, the “American Idol” judge who recently went public about having diabetes, a disease that causes a blood sugar or insulin imbalance.
"Diabetes snuck up on me. I didn't know I had it, and it was a huge wake-up call to get my health together," said Jackson, who has since lost 110 pounds and improved his diet to better manage the disease.
The journey to wellness for Phife Dawg’ of a Tribe Called Quest, however, hasn't been quite as smooth.
Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in May of 1990, just after the April debut of a Tribe Called Quest’s first album, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm,” Phife told HipHopMusic.com., “I started having symptoms like using the bathroom frequently, like almost every half hour on the dot, and I was real thirsty, mouth dry and all that.”
Despite having watched his mother also struggle with the disease, the rapper born Malik Taylor admits to not changing his eating habits or consistently taking his medicine. He is currently on dialysis and on a waiting list for a pancreas and kidney transplant.
Both Phife and Jackson know all too well what can happen when diabetes goes untreated or undiagnosed. They are among a growing number of African Americans living with diabetes.
The latest statistics show that African Americans are nearly 70 percent more likely to have diabetes than Whites. In general, 3.2 million African Americans age 20 or older have the condition. One in four African-American women over age 55 also has diabetes.
But singer-songwriter Jackson, who was diagnosed with diabetes five years ago, hopes to encourage more people to get tested for diabetes because the disease, which blindsided him, can cause a host of diseases, such as heart disease, kidney failure, amputations, stroke, or worse, death, if left untreated.
"Heart disease is the No. 1 complication of diabetes, but there is a big awareness issue," said Dr. Stephen Clement, an endocrinologist and diabetes specialist at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death from type 2 diabetes – the most common form of the disease. Type 1 is called childhood diabetes, which is also growing rapid in America because of the rise in obesity, experts say.
Nearly 21 million children and adults have diabetes in the United States, and another 54 million are on the verge of developing the disease. If current trends hold, one out of every three children, and one out of every two minority children, will be diagnosed with diabetes in their lifetime, making diabetes one of the fastest growing diseases in America.
Type 2 diabetes comes from an insulin imbalance in the body, according to the AHA. Normally, food you eat is turned into glucose, or sugar, that the body uses for energy. Insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas, is needed to usher the glucose into the cells of the body.