Shirmarie Starks | Staff Writer
The start of November may be important for you because it signifies the soon-to-be arrival of Thanksgiving. However, there are over 122 million reasons to consider November an important month. For 30 days out of the year, there are 122.2 million people living with diabetes or pre-diabetes who are able to bring consistent awareness to a condition that they live with for 365 days a year. Many people know someone who is affected by diabetes, but not many people know the details about this long-lasting condition.
Diabetes, a group of diseases, occurs as a result of the body not being able to properly regulate the levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Found in the bloodstream, blood glucose is our main source of energy, and it is directly affected by the foods we eat. Normally, our blood sugar levels rise after we eat, and fall within a few hours because of insulin. Insulin, a hormone produced from the pancreas, is responsible for moving the glucose from the bloodstream into our cells for storage and energy. If insulin is not produced or the cells do not respond to insulin, the blood glucose levels are heightened. When blood sugar levels are abnormally and consistently too high, this can lead to pre-diabetes or one of the three types of diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas produces little to no insulin. This form of diabetes usually appears in children, but it can be diagnosed in adults too. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 5 to10% of people who are diagnosed with diabetes have type 1 diabetes. Currently, there are no treatments available to prevent type 1 diabetes as it is an autoimmune disease. This means that the immune system is attacking the pancreas which results in reduced insulin production. Individuals with type 1 diabetes must take insulin injections every day in order to survive.
Type 2 diabetes is a condition where the pancreas does produce insulin, however, the body’s cells do not react to the insulin effectively. This is commonly referred to as “insulin resistance,” and the CDC notes that between 90 to 95% of diagnosed diabetes cases are type 2. Type 2 diabetics must take insulin injections as needed and this is based on their blood sugar levels.
In addition to type 1 and type 2 diabetes, there is also another form of diabetes known as “gestational diabetes.” This condition only develops during pregnancy in women who did not have a previous history of diabetes. In the United States, there is an estimated 2-10% of pregnancies that are affected by gestational diabetes.
Individuals may develop pre-diabetes, which is a condition where the blood sugar levels are high, but not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. The CDC has stated that 34.5% of the adult US population have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes. With this diagnosis, individuals are advised to change their lifestyle habits in order to prevent type 2 diabetes. Lifestyle changes can include getting regular exercise, eating healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables and losing 5 to 10% of your body weight if you are overweight.
In the CDC’s 2020 National Diabetes Statistics Report, the data presented an ethnic percentage breakdown of US adults aged 18 and older who were diagnosed with diabetes. In the document, the following percentages were presented: American Indian/Alaska Native (15.1%); Hispanic (12.7%); Black, non-Hispanic (12.1%); Asian (8.0%); and White, non-Hispanic (7.4%). Environmental factors such as the lack of water, stress and unhealthy diets can increase the risk of diabetes. There are also genetic factors that can play a role in diabetes development as some families have a health history of diabetes. Diabetes is known to progress faster in minorities because of these environmental and genetic factors.
According to the Food Drug and Administration, racial and ethnic minorities have a higher burden of diabetes, worse diabetes control, and are more likely to experience complications.
“I wish that people knew how expensive it is to treat it [diabetes],” said Hampton University student Felicia Davis, a sophomore biology pre-med student. “Medicine is a must when you have diabetes and without it, it could lead to death.” Davis further emphasized how expensive the medication can be, but also how common it is for the medication to be unaffordable for lower class groups.
People who live with diabetes spend around $16,750 a year on medical expenditures, and about $9,600 of that is causally related to diabetes, as stated by the American Diabetes Association. If the diagnosis is left untreated, more serious complications can occur such as kidney failure, heart-disease and lower-limb amputations.
As the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, November serves as a reminder to the value of diabetes awareness. Alexandria Witherspoon, a junior psychology pre-med major at Hampton University, says that being aware and supportive of individuals who have diabetes is important, but you should also treat them the same as anyone else.
“If you have a close friend or family member, educate yourself on the basics of diabetes like signs of high and low blood sugar and how you can help if you notice the symptoms,” said Witherspoon.
It is important to note that although 39.2 million people have diabetes, 7.3 million of those people go undiagnosed and remain untreated, per the CDC. This is common in individuals who have not undergone regular screenings for high blood glucose. During this month, take some time to learn about your personal risk for diabetes or you can sign up to become an advocate for those living with diabetes. Since blue is the color of American Diabetes Awareness Month, one simple advocacy method is wearing a blue shirt to show your solidarity. You could also change your profile pictures to a blue circle which is the official and universal symbol for diabetes. If you do not want to change it for an entire month, consider changing it on November 14 as this is World Diabetes Day. As cases of diabetes rise within the United States and worldwide, make this your November to help make a difference!