November Is National Diabetes Month

Diabetes affects millions of African-Americans. In National Diabetes Month, people have the opportunity to get tested and learn more about prevention and treatment.

We hear a lot about diabetes in the news, but how much do we really know about diabetes?

Perhaps we should use this November, National Diabetes Month, to educate ourselves and get tested for the disease, because we can't deny that it's a serious problem in the African-American community.

Diabetes, a lifelong disease in which there are high levels of sugar in the blood, impacts 15 percent of all African-Americans 20 and older; 25 percent of those between the ages of 65 and 74; and 25 percent of women over 55. And this isn't just an adult disease — the rates of diabetes among African-American youth have shot up thanks to the childhood obesity crisis in our community.

Diabetes can lead to other serious complications such as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, amputations, nerve damage and even death. Early symptoms of diabetes are frequent urination, excessive thirst, blurry vision, weight loss and hunger.

According to the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP), here are some other things to know:

•    Nearly 26 million Americans have diabetes.

•    Seven million people with diabetes do not even know that they have this disease.

•    An estimated 79 million adults in the U.S. have pre-diabetes, placing them at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

•    Having a family history of diabetes places you at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

•    If you are a woman who had gestational diabetes during pregnancy, you are at increased risk for developing diabetes, and the child of that pregnancy is at increased risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes.

But there's good news: Diabetes doesn't have to be our destiny if we don't want it to be. There are lifestyle changes that we can all make in order to reduce our risk of developing the disease. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Diabetes Education Program offers up these prevention tips:

•    Aim to lose at least 5 to 7 percent of your current weight. That’s 10 to 14 pounds for a 200-pound person.

•    Prepare and cook healthy foods. Freeze portions so you have healthy meals ready for days when you’re too tired or don’t have time to cook. Instead of fried chicken, try it grilled, baked or broiled. Use vegetable or canola oil when you choose to fry. For a main dish, try low-fat macaroni and cheese served with your favorite vegetable and a salad.

•    Cut down on food portion sizes. The portion size that you are used to may be equal to two or three standard servings — which equals double or triple the calories and fat! Appropriate portion sizes are often smaller than you think.

•    Drink water instead of sweetened fruit drinks and soda. Find a water bottle you really like from your church, community organization or favorite sports team and drink water from it wherever and whenever you can.

•    Increase your activity level by walking more often. Schedule walking dates with friends or family members throughout the week. Organize a walking group with your neighbors, co-workers or church members. Hit the gym and take that Zumba class!

Are you at risk? Read more tips about prevention in NDEP's "4 Steps to Control Your Diabetes. For Life."

Do you have diabetes? Read NDEP's "Small Steps. Big Rewards. Your GAME PLAN to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes: Information for Patients."

(Photo: Jose Luis Pelaez Inc)

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