In the United States, 8.3 percent of the population has diabetes. That’s a whopping 25.8 million people. The percentage of people with the disease is even higher in Muskegon County, especially in the African American population.
Individuals impacted by diabetes were invited to take part in a recent African American Beating Diabetes Community Health Conference at Muskegon Heights High School. Scheduled keynote speaker J. Anthony Brown became ill the day before the event and couldn’t attend.
That didn’t stop organizers from sharing a lot of helpful information about diabetes with those in attendance.
Michigan ranks 13th in the country for the prevalence of diabetes, with 9.3 percent of state residents managing the disease. In Muskegon County, 10.3 percent of the population suffers from diabetes. The conference focused on African Americans dealing with diabetes due to a disproportionate occurrence of the disease among this demographic. In Muskegon County, the reported incidence rate of African Americans diagnosed is 10.6 percent, while white populations rank at 8.7 percent.
Kathy Moore is the Deputy Director of the Muskegon County Public Health Department. She said diabetes is a condition that can be managed. Oftentimes, people take car maintenance more seriously than how they treat their body, an attitude that has to change, since “this is the only body you will get.”
Despite having a highly ranked public health system, Muskegon County ranks last in the state for health behaviors.
“It’s within our control,” Moore said. “Treat your body better than you treat your car.”
Complications from diabetes can range from blindness, kidney failure, amputation, heart attack, and stroke, with African Americans also suffering disproportionately.
Attendees at the 11th annual African American Beating Diabetes Community Health Conference pick up literature from expo presenters.
Nicole Bradford is a physician’s assistant at Hackley Community Care. She also teaches at Western Michigan University. Bradford stepped in to the keynote speaker role after Brown was unable to attend.
“I know you were expecting J. Anthony Brown, but I think I’m a little cuter,” Bradford joked.
While she may not have been the comedic radio personality, Brown’s presentation was filled with information about how diabetes works within the body, practical advice on how to manage diabetes, and myths associated with the disease.
Here’s her list of eight common misconceptions people have about diabetes.
Diabetes is not a serious disease. Bradford said her patients will refer to diabetes as having the sugar. “It sounds sweet, but it’s not,” she said.
People with Type 1 diabetes can’t participate in sports. Not true, she said. People with either type of diabetes should strive to incorporate more activity into their lives.
Women with diabetes shouldn’t get pregnant. While women should work to control their blood sugar and seek regular prenatal appointments, Bradford said women with diabetes can have healthy pregnancies if they work with their doctor.
People with diabetes can feel their blood sugar go up. Bradford said for some, this can be true to an extent, but it’s mostly a falsehood. She said regular blood sugar monitoring is extremely important.
Nobody in my family has diabetes, so I won’t get it. “Anyone can develop diabetes,” Bradford said.
Gestational diabetes isn’t that serious. Not only can it impact the health of the mother, gestational diabetes can negatively impact the developing baby, Bradford said.
Diabetics can’t donate blood. As long as the blood sugar is being managed, Bradford said this isn’t the case.
Diabetics need to follow a special diet. While there’s no specific diet diabetics need to follow, Bradford said everyone would benefit from establishing a healthy, well-balanced diet.
Bradford explained how the body of a person with diabetes responds differently to sugar. When we eat food, our body breaks it down into energy. For a normal person, carbohydrates break down into glucose, or sugar, and serve as a main source of fuel. The hormone insulin is released and helps sugar get into cells, which use it for energy.
In someone with diabetes, the process doesn’t work as efficiently as it should. In patients with Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas either doesn’t produce enough insulin or it doesn’t produce it at all, Bradford explained. The sugar can’t get in cells to produce energy and levels rise to sometimes dangerous levels. In patients with Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas either doesn’t produce enough insulin or it produces way too much.
About five percent of diabetes cases are Type 1. Bradford said researchers really aren’t sure why Type 1 diabetes develops.
The other 95 percent of cases of diabetes are classified as Type 2. For patients with Type 2 diabetes, there are many risk factors that can lead to the development of the disease, including obesity, genetics, inactivity, poor diet, and ethnicity. African Americans and Latinos typically have higher incidence rates and more severe mortality rates due to the disease, Bradford said.
For many people with diabetes, no symptoms are experienced. For those who do experience symptoms, these range from dehydration, weight loss, excessive hunger or thirst, fatigue, blurry vision, frequent infections, and a sense of real fatigue.
Bradford said feeling tired is due to cells not being properly nourished.
“Your cells are really starving,” she said.
Bradford also touched on pre-diabetes and gestational diabetes in her presentation.
She said people with pre-diabetes sometimes jokingly refer to it as a “touch of diabetes”, but that it’s no laughing matter. Since Type 2 diabetes is a condition that can develop over many years, lifestyle changes such as exercising more and eating more healthfully can help stave off a full-on diabetes diagnosis for those with pre-diabetes.
“You’ve got some work to do,” she told those in the audience with a pre-diabetes diagnosis.
Eighteen percent of all pregnant women experience gestational diabetes. She said if women don’t get proper prenatal care, their babies can be impacted in utero. Because mom will have higher sugar levels, that extra sugar goes to the fetus, resulting in big babies at birth.
For everyone with a diabetes diagnosis, Bradford urged common sense and everyday changes to impact health. Fitting in activity as much as possible, preferably for 30 minutes, five times per week, was recommended. This can include brisk walking, Bradford explained, or parking further from the grocery store and fitting in five to ten minutes where you can throughout the day.
“You don’t have to be Carl Lewis,” she said.
A healthier diet was also encouraged, although Bradford conceded she knew this could be tough. She said in the African American community, good, hearty cooking is the norm, with people “praying over our poison.” Again, starting with small changes and working your way from there will help make dietary changes a lifestyle change.
Following doctor’s orders is another area Bradford wants to see improvement from her diabetes patients. She said when patients don’t follow medication recommendations, they can sometimes go from bad to worse in managing their diabetes.
“All they had to do was take the medication you prescribed,” she said.
Bradford urged those with negative reactions to prescribed medications to talk to their doctors about alternatives.
Muskegon Heights resident Ida White attended the conference with her grandson, two-year-old Lucas Terry Jr. She was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2007 and has worked to educate herself on the condition. She tries to eat right and stays in regular touch with her physician, but says she knows she can do better.
“I’m not managing, but I’m working on it,” she said.
White said events like the conference in Muskegon Heights help her get more information and motivate her to stay healthy for Lucas and her other three grandchildren.