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Supporting Black Futures During Black History Month by Ending Diabetes Disparities

African American older adults are disproportionately affected by diabetes, which affects more than 10% of African American adults. Without proper management, diabetes may increase the risk for other diseases including cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

The American Heart Association has a good explanation of how diabetes develops:

When your body doesn’t produce enough insulin and/or doesn’t efficiently use the insulin it produces, sugar levels rise in the bloodstream. As a result:
1. Right away, the body’s cells may be starved for energy.
2. Over time, high blood glucose levels may damage the eyes, kidneys, nerves or heart.

Regulating diabetes may reduce the risk of other diseases and conditions that disproportionately impact African American older adults. In particular, controlling sugar intake may reduce the risk of developing vascular dementia, a type of dementia that is caused by reduced or blocked blood flow. This is also true for other diseases such as cardiovascular disease, which occurs when arteries are clogged or blocked.

Below are some additional lifestyle changes one can take to lessen the impact of diabetes:

  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Substitute sugar with healthier alternatives such as honey or agave nectar
  • Limit the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Avoid eating big meals near bedtime
  • Get 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity or at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity of aerobic activity such as brisk walking, jogging, biking
  • Adopt diets such as the Mediterranean Diet or a high-fiber diet, diets that are associated with a lower risk for cardiovascular disease

Although there are many changes one can make to regulate diabetes and the onset of other diseases, more efforts are needed to be taken by state and federal institutions to address diabetes in the African American and Black communities. Small actions such as providing culturally competent health information may help community members better understand how the aforementioned diseases are related and the importance of regulating diabetes. Additionally, health providers, social service providers, and community-based organizations must work together to create strong networks to promote healthy aging by African American older adults.

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About Ocean Le, Program Associate, Diverse Elders Coalition

Ocean Le, BSBA, MS, is the Program Associate for the Diverse Elders Coalition. In this role, he facilitates the coalition’s family caregiving work, as well as supporting the coalition’s communications and media outreach. He is a former intern with The John A. Hartford Foundation and a graduate of Columbia University.

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