We must stop living and dying this way
Pictured: U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.)
Although the close of November brought with it the official end to American Diabetes Month, we must continue to heighten awareness of how serious this disease is - particularly within the African American community. Pictured: U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.)
Although the close of November brought with it the official end to American Diabetes Month, we must continue to heighten awareness of how serious this disease is - particularly within the African American community.
I grew up looking forward to joining my family after church for a delicious feast of fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and other Southern delights. For all the joys of these traditional dinners, however, even thinking about them now is enough to clog my arteries. How we eat is all too often related to how we will die; we must change our lifestyles now in order to save our lives later.
Thoughts of Sunday dinners cannot overcome the harsh reality that diabetes is now the fourth leading cause of death in African-American families. More than 3 million of us are now burdened by this disease--nearly twice the incidence among Caucasians – and our traditional diet is a major contributor to this disparity.
Many factors contributing to diabetes are preventable--including high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol, and insufficient physical activity. By choosing to move more and eat less, we can extinguish our vulnerability to this disease – and prevent it from extinguishing us.
Diabetes leads to a vast array of health problems including blindness, amputations, and kidney, nerve, and dental disease. It also increases vulnerability to dying of heart disease and stroke.
In fact, adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to die of heart disease than those who have not been weakened by the disease, and African-Americans are even more susceptible to these complications than our White counterparts.
However, recent studies have offered us hope. The development of type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed by up to 58 percent through simple changes--such as reducing body weight by 5 to 10 percent and participating in moderate physical activity (such as a thirty-minute walk) five days a week. For an adult weighing 200 lbs., this would mean losing only 10-20 lbs.
Taking such proactive measures has even been shown to reverse elevated blood sugar levels back to a normal range.
Having lost over 40 pounds myself in recent months, I can personally attest to how simple this feat is. I eat smaller portions of healthier food, and I make time to work out every day--even when Congress is in session.
Our elders often speak casually about having "a little sugar" when the doctor warns them of their high blood pressure, but this condition is a siren alarming all of us to take charge of our health.
It is vital that we start with our children. The need for this increased public awareness is driving a national movement to make healthy foods available to every American child. It is no secret that low-income and urban areas are already at a disadvantage. Too many families in these areas lack access to grocery stores that stock fresh produce and healthy snacks at an affordable price.
I have been working hard with my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus to ensure that we address these broader issues through legislation. Over the summer we passed the Farm Bill, which makes vital expansions to the nutrition programs that help 35 million low-income families. Included is an expansion of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program that provides all schoolchildren with the opportunity to eat healthfully, as well as a program that provides vouchers to low-income seniors for purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables from farmers' markets.
Passing legislation is not enough. We must also rise up together as a community and educate our loved ones about the causes and risks associated with our daily diets.
I urge you to get tested for diabetes. Additionally, if you have diabetes and your family has a history of hemoglobin abnormalities