Diabetes Alert Day Raises Awareness

Photo by Santeri Viinamäki

How Can We Avoid Diabetes When We're Still Young?

Lakisha Snelling, a student at SMC, believes it is too soon to think about diabetes because she is only 19. “Maybe 10 years or 20 years from now, I would need to start doing something to prevent it,” she said.

But 21-year-old Tony Delarosa, a student at West Los Angeles College, thinks differently. He remembers how his grandmother had to inject insulin every day, suffering from diabetic feet and kidney disease, and other long-term effects of diabetes.

Delarosa has a family history of diabetes. He saw his mother and grandmother suffering from diabetes. Ten years ago, after his grandmother’s death, his mother also developed diabetes. She had to take pills to control her blood sugar. Now, her disease is getting worse and she most likely has to inject insulin soon, just like her own mother.

“It is really difficult, and I do not want to live like my mother and grandmother. That is why I want to kill diabetes before it kills me,” Delarosa says.

On the other hand, most young people believe diabetes is a geriatric disease. But the fact is, the first stages of diabetes can appear between the ages of 17 and 22.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases's website (NIDDK), “diabetes affects more than 29 million Americans or about 9 percent of the U.S. population. It’s also estimated that 1 in every 4 persons with diabetes, or 8 million Americans are unaware that they have the disease.”

That’s why American Diabetes Association decided to hold a Diabetes Alert Day -- annually on the 4th Tuesday of March -- to "sound the alarm about the prevalence of type 2 diabetes,” according to their website. The organization asks all American adults to take a short Diabetes Risk Test (available online here) to calculate their risk for type 2 diabetes.

Having a family history of diabetes and being African-American, Hispanic, or Asian American increases the chances of diabetes. However, this does not mean that you cannot prevent diabetes if you are a part of these demographics. It also does not mean you are not at risk if you don't have these risk factors. In fact, the most important risk for diabetes is preventable.

According to Parisa Kamgar, a researcher at Medtronic Diabetes, a medical technology company based in Northridge, California, obesity is the most important risk factor for diabetes. Research shows that about 90 percent of people with diabetes are obese. Also, 70 percent of students gain weight in their first year at college. There are many definitions to obesity or overweight, but Kamgar claims that measuring Body Mass Index (BMI) is still a simple, effective way to find out if you are obese or not.

To calculate your BMI, you need to have your weight in pounds and your height in inches. Then, use this formula: (weight/height ✕ height) ✕ 703. For example, if your weight is 155 pounds and your height is 67 inches, your BMI would be 155 / (67✕67) ✕703, which is 24.3.

“If the number is between 25-30, you are overweight, which is a warning sign for obesity. If your BMI is above 30, you are obese, which means you got a big red signal for developing diabetes,” Kamgar says.

Physical Activity

Physical activity is another key to preventing diabetes. There are four types of physical activities that can help keep blood sugar at a healthy level. The first type includes regular, normal daily movements like walking or going up and down a staircase. The second type of physical activity is aerobic exercise, which includes brisk walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, and even dancing. Stretching exercises and strength training are also two other types of physical activities that we can do to prevent diabetes. A combination of all four types would be the best choice for anybody.

How about food?

SMC Nutrition Professor Dona-Rae Richwine said, “there is a misconception that eating too much sugar causes diabetes, and that is not true. In fact, eating too much sugar can cause you to gain weight, and what usually triggers diabetes to start is being overweight.”

Therefore, you need to pay attention to managing your weight. Eating healthy food can help you to do that. However, there is no specific diet for people who want to prevent diabetes. “It is the same healthy eating habit for everybody. Eat low-fat foods, reduce refined sugars, eat whole grains, have at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day, eat more plant proteins or fish, and less red meat. Those are all the nutrition guidelines for everybody,” Richwine said.

Do college students know and care enough about diabetes, and how they can prevent it?

Richwine, who has a long-time experience in teaching middle school, high school, and college students, added, “When you are young, you think you are invincible, and you are not really thinking about health. Probably it is down the road, and that is the challenge for the teachers. You cannot talk to students about their health. That is not in their brain. And I think the same is for college students. With the exception that they are here to learn and listen and expand their knowledge, so hopefully college students will listen, but I do not think they are really thinking about it unless possibly someone in their family is really being affected by diabetes.”