By Senator, Lena C. Taylor
The holiday season is an occasion to reflect on life, love, family, and all the joys that surround us. So many wonderful moments and memories have been shared, and will continue to be shared during these upcoming months. It is also a time to think about the health and needs of those in our own homes and communities.
November is American Diabetes Month, a time to raise awareness and enhance prevention and care for a disease that affects nearly 26 million children and adults in the United States.
Age, gender, and genetics are all factors that play into the possibility of having the disease, but lifestyle choices can also greatly increase or decrease the chance of developing the disease. Diabetes not only places a huge economic burden on the healthcare system (estimates put cost around $200 billion annually), but is extremely taxing to individuals with the disease.
While the effects of Diabetes may appear to be minor and manageable, for many the disease is a medical nightmare, and in some cases life threatening. Diabetes greatly increases the chance of having a heart attack or stroke, often causes nerve damage, and is the leading cause of kidney failure, new cases of blindness, and raises the amputation rate of limbs tenfold. Perhaps what is most upsetting about these consequences is that the disease has gone largely unnoticed, even though it affects so many of our lives.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services conducted a study in 2011 study in Wisconsin that estimated 10 percent of residents were diabetic. Data from Milwaukee Country proved to be worse, with 13 percent of residents estimated to have the disease. What is more shocking is that the study estimated that the number of diabetic African Americans in Wisconsin was nearing 22 percent, more than double the statistic for the state as a whole! Additionally, almost 16 percent of Hispanics had developed the disease, stressing how Diabetes disproportionately affects minorities in the United States.
These numbers are unacceptable! In a city where our Black community makes up 40 percent of all residents, and has a vibrant Hispanic community, these figures hit close to home.
While the number children affected by Diabetes remains low (DHS study estimates that less than 1 percent of children in Wisconsin have the disease), this number is rising around the country, with more cases of Type 2 Diabetes being reported, which previously was unheard of in children and young adults. Our children’s futures are one of the most important things in our lives, and we can easily avoid these new cases by starting healthy habits at home and in schools from an early age.
Many things must be taken into account when dealing with this disease, including family history, access to healthcare, and financial status. When these factors put someone at risk for developing Diabetes, they seem almost impossible to overcome. And while something like your genetics may stack the deck against you, failing to pursue healthy lifestyle choices can ultimately deal the losing hand.
We are fortunate to have a strong community ties in our city, so reaching out to a neighbor to plan a healthy dinner, organizing a fun outdoor activity, or just having a conversation to increase awareness is a small gesture that can many positive effects. You can take steps for yourself and your children to stay Diabetes-free too.
Prevention is simple: eating healthy and nutritious meals, exercising a few times every week, and moderating your blood pressure and cholesterol. It is important to have an open conversation with your children about appropriate foods, and establish routine healthy choices such as watching less TV, spending more time outdoors, and getting a full night’s sleep. Let’s be leaders for our state and country by starting strong at home! Staying active in Milwaukee can be easy, and fun: below are some links for families or individuals looking to explore our great city and stay fit!