A Time to Every Purpose
November is American Diabetes Month
Anne Peters, MD, a Los Angeles-based endocrinologist, has seen patients' entire families come through her office, generation by generation—she's helped grandparents, parents, and children to manage their diabetes. And with her help, each generation with type 2 has improved their diabetes control, in some cases to the point where the youngest in the family develop habits that enable them to avoid diabetes altogether.
This is how Peters, named an Outstanding Physician Clinician in Diabetes in June by the American Diabetes Association, knows that the rapidly increasing rates of diabetes across the country could be slowed, halted, even reversed. But in order to do so, Peters says we need to reach out to more communities with education, treatment, and health care. That's a key reason why you'll be hearing a great deal about the seriousness of diabetes complications this month, which is American Diabetes Month, an annual education and awareness program of the ADA.
"I've seen people go blind, go on dialysis," says Peters. Blindness and retinopathy are common complications of poorly controlled diabetes—as is another serious complication affecting the nerves: neuropathy. "That kind of pain is an incredible suffering," she explains. "That gnawing, ceaseless neuropathy pain is so difficult to treat that it's all about prevention"—in this case, by controlling blood glucose.
Why Should You Care About Diabetes?
That's the slogan of this year's American Diabetes Month. Every year, more and more Americans are being affected by diabetes and its serious complications, and we have the numbers to prove it.
Americans have diabetes
Americans have diabetes but haven't been diagnosed
Since 1987, the death rate due to diabetes has increased
of kidney failure incidents are caused by diabetes, making it the leading cause of kidney failure
12,000 to 24,000
people go blind each year due to diabetic retinopathy
1 out of 3
Americans born in 2000 will develop diabetes, if current trends continue
Sources: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Journal of the American Medical Association
Despite the bleak health issues Peters describes many of her patients experiencing, she also emphasizes the reasons for hope. Early treatment of diabetes and good blood glucose control can contribute to lessening or even reversing the effects of diabetes complications. "I've seen kidneys go from signs of damage to completely normal," Peters says. Individuals can turn the tide.
Communities, too, can do their part. In east L.A., Peters has seen how opening farmers' markets that provide fresh fruit and vegetables, and offering free cooking courses to teach people how to use these healthier foods, can improve nutrition. "[We need] community-based change," Peters explains,"so that no matter how poor or rich your community is, it can organize in a way that starts to create change."
A Big Month in the Big Apple
New York City has the most diverse and largest population of any city in the country. But it also has one of the highest rates of diabetes of any U.S. city. "Here in New York City, diabetes is a huge epidemic," says Dionne Polite, ADA director of outreach programs and volunteer development in New York City. "We have 1.2 million people living with diabetes here." So the Big Apple will be a big part of ADA's outreach efforts during American Diabetes Month.
Diabetes awareness in New York City is especially important given the many ethnic groups represented in the population, many of which are at higher risk for diabetes. "The Bronx, which has the largest number of Latino people, is what we call the epicenter of diabetes," Polite explains. On November 11, the Association will be hosting an ecumenical brunch in Queens. ADA has invited faith leaders from across the city to learn how to spread diabetes awareness to their churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples. Speakers will share diabetes information as well as strategies for teaching their congregations about healthy living. Attendees will be signing a commitment form to implement a plan for diabetes education in their faith-based organizations and in their communities, says Polite.
At ADA's Community Health Awareness event in Manhattan on November 12, a panel of health care professionals will interact with hospitals, corporate leaders, faith leaders, and people from communities throughout the city. ADA will also be participating in a presentation at the United Nations on November 13—in connection with World Diabetes Day, November 14—coordinated by the International Diabetes Federation. Speaking there will be a young girl with type 1 diabetes named Keannie Faith Rivera. "She'll talk about how diabetes affects her and her family," Polite says, "and what ADA has done by providing resources and education that help them to live healthier."
Of course, ADA's efforts in New York are not confined to the month ofNovember, but happen all year long, whether by working with Native American tribes living on Long Island or reaching out to African American and Caribbean American communities in Brooklyn. But in November, no one—with diabetes or without—will be able to ignore the crisis.