“You never know. I could pass out, and I want people to know I’m diabetic and understand what it means,” said Trice, a political science major, who hails from Atlanta. “If something were to happen to me, I’d want people to know what to do.”
Trice has never been shy about sharing her diabetic condition. Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 16, Trice takes daily shots of insulin, tracks her carbohydrate intake and visits Student Health Services for regular checkups, all in an effort to control her diabetes. Raising awareness of this growing disease and the challenges Trice and other diabetics face is the primary goal of American Diabetes Awareness Month. Every November, this monthlong observance focuses the nation’s attention on the issues surrounding diabetes and those who are impacted by the disease.
As a growing number of students, faculty, and staff battle both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, the College is also taking steps to bring awareness to this epidemic that disproportionately affects youth and adults in the African-American community.
“There are so many stereotypes about this disease,” said Trice. “People think it only affects those who are overweight, but there are a lot of complexities to diabetes. People have to educate themselves and know the symptoms.”
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African- Americans are twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes as Whites, and are more likely to suffer complications from diabetes, such as end-stage renal disease and lower extremity amputations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that an estimated 1.9 million Americans were diagnosed with diabetes in 2010, with 12.6 percent of African-Americans accounting for all diabetes rates, compared to 7.1 percent for Whites.
The prevalence of diabetes among Blacks has also quadrupled during the past 30 years. Among Blacks ages 20 and older, about 2.3 million have diabetes – roughly 11 percent of that age group.
Brenda Dalton, director of Student Health Services, is not alarmed by these startling statistics.
“This is a health disparity we need to fix,” she said. “As African-Americans, we are going to have to take control of our own health and begin to make an impact against this health disparity facing us.”
A Closer Look at Diabetes
According to the CDC, diabetes is the condition in which the body does not properly process food for use as energy. The pancreas, an organ that lies near the stomach, makes a hormone called insulin to help glucose get into the body’s cells. When a person has Type 2 diabetes, their body doesn’t process insulin, causing sugar to become deposited in blood vessels and nerve endings. Type 1, also known as juvenile-onset diabetes, occurs when the pancreas stops producing insulin. Diabetes can lead to serious health complications such as heart disease, blindness, kidney failure and lower-extremity amputations.
The seventh-leading cause of death in the United States, Diabetes symptoms include numbness in extremities, fatigue, rapid weight loss, frequent urination and blurry vision.
Type 1 accounts for 5 percent to 10 percent of all diagnosed cases and cannot be reversed. Type 2 accounts for 90 percent to 95 percent of all diagnosed cases.
Tackling the Disease
Since 2009, Dalton estimates that an increasing number of Spelman students have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes. In January 2011, Adrienne Bauduit, C’2012, a member of the S.H.A.P.E. student organization, died from complications of Type 1 diabetes.
Students diagnosed with diabetes are immediately referred to Marisa Moore, a registered and licensed dietitian and nutritionist who works in Health Services. There, students receive education, treatment, assistance securing diabetic supplies, as well as prescriptions for medication.
“We help students understand blood sugar levels, insulin, proper nutrition, and how to check their glucose levels,” Dalton said. “We also check their hemoglobin A1c levels to determine if they’ve been compliant. Some students are managing the disease on their own, and some don’t want others to know.”
Controlling her diabetes is vital for Trice.
“Diabetes is the biggest part of my life,” said Trice, who plans to attend law school after graduation. “You either take care of yourself or you die.”
Doris Wingham, receptionist in the Office of Admissions, has Type 2 diabetes. Diagnosed in 2006, Wingham takes medication to control the disease. Like Trice, she controls her sugar and carbohydrate intake and works hard to manage her weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
“Diabetes puts restrictions on me because glucose restricts my body differently,” said Wingham, who has a family history of diabetes. “But, diabetes is treatable. People should exercise and educate themselves. A lot of people think you can’t eat certain foods, but it’s all about portion control.”
Joining the ‘Wellness Revolution’
Although family history places individuals at an increased risk for developing diabetes, Dalton notes there are several proactive measures to prevent or delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes.
“Diabetes isn’t hereditary, it’s more environmental,” she said. “We can change the environment. The new wellness center will be the key,” said Dalton referring to the upcoming renovation of Read Hall, home of the College’s physical education and health programs, and Spelman’s new ‘wellness revolution” initiative.’ Getting up and moving and making proper nutrition choices are so critical. This (revolution) is a unique opportunity for faculty, staff and students.”
“Diabetes is largely preventable, and can be delayed,” she said. “Taking the stairs, walking across campus, all helps. That’s because there’s a direct connection between diabetes and heart health. Two out of three people who die from diabetes complications die from a heart attack or stroke. It’s a quality of life issue.”– Alicia Lurry is senior communications specialist and editor of the Spelman Connection for the Office of Communications.