Almost everyone knows someone who has diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, an estimated 23.6 million people in the United States – or 7.8 percent of the population – have diabetes, a serious, lifelong condition. It is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S.
Diabetes is also associated with long-term complications that affect almost every part of the body. The disease often leads to blindness, heart and blood vessel disease, stroke, kidney failure, amputations, and nerve damage. Diabetes is also on the rise in kids, as a result of obesity.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of Fox Network’s “The Dr. Oz Show,” is passionate about this public health crisis. He appeared on “The Early Show” Wednesday from Washington, D.C., where he is the keynote speaker at the National Conference on Diabetes.
Dr. Oz said he estimates that 57 million more people than the American Diabetes Association statistics include are likely to have diabetes or be pre-diabetic.
Oz said, “The irony is the earlier you intervene and help folks, the better they’ll do. It’ll double the survival rates, but 90 percent of people don??ed the warnings. But he believed he could beat it on his own.
“I knew what to look out for and what I needed to do. I had to change my lifestyle by eating healthier foods and exercising more. If I did that, I thought I could treat it myself and there would be no need for me to see a doctor and take medication,” Tirado said.
He was wrong. Tirado was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes two years later. Now 36, he takes medication, eats healthier and has better control of the disease.
Tirado is one of four Humboldt Park block captains in the National Institutes of Health’s Block by Block Campaign to Combat Diabetes. He will go door-to-door in the Humboldt Park neighborhood to identify adults diagnosed with the disease and provide them resources to better manage it.
The campaign, which will track the patients for the next two years, was announced last week in conjunction with the opening of the Greater Humboldt Park Community Diabetes Empowerment Center. The Sinai Health System estimates as many as 14 percent of Hispanics in Humboldt Park have Type 2 diabetes, the most common variety.
Nationwide, diabetes hits minority populations hard, with African-Americans suffering most. Hispanics are next, making up 10 percent of the 23 million Americans 20 and older who have the disease, according to the American Diabetes Association.
“We’ve been struggling to address our community’s health and wellness issues, and diabetes is a huge problem. We needed to address the issue at the same time on many levels. This program is one of the most comprehensive approaches to combat the disease,” said Jose Lopez, executive director of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center.
Contributing to the problem for Hispanics, said Lopez, is a lack of education about prevention and awareness, not going to the doctor and ignoring warning signs.
Type 2 diabetes develops when the body doesn’t make enough insulin or doesn’t efficiently use the insulin it makes. It appears most often in middle-aged adults. If uncontrolled, the disease can lead to blindness and kidney failure, and amputation of limbs, said Dr. Steven Rothschild, a researcher and physician at Rush University Medical Center, which has joined the campaign.
Rothschild said a scarcity of healthier foods and a dangerous environment also play a role.
“Some of the residents are scared to come outside because of criminal activity in the area,” he said. “And when you don’t have many choices to get quality food, it’s hard to change habits that can affect their lives for the better. This Block by Block program will help lessen those factors so the community can get a better grasp on the condition and help others.”
Tirado agrees, saying that the “food desert” he lives in played a significant role in his food choices. He has many fast-food options but no source of fresh, quality groceries, he said.
“When you don’t have stores that can provide you with quality food so you can sustain a healthier lifestyle, the easiest thing to do is stop at McDonald’s or some other place. If we want good stuff, we have to go to other communities to get it,” said Tirado.
Tirado, who is responsible for 18 of the 72 blocks the campaign will cover, feels confident the program will be a success and will spread to other communities.
“If the only way a community addresses the diabetes issue is to get information from the nearest hospital or clinic, that’s not going to work. By using our approach by having resources available in the area hospitals, by going door-to-door and having the empowerment center open daily with information about diabetes and other medical issues, it’ll be a success,” he said.
The center, at 2753 W. Division St., will offer on-site classes on nutrition, physical activity, diabetes self-management, and other health topics at least five days per week.
Colleen Fogarty of the American Diabetes Association said the program is promising.
“Having the community take the lead on addressing the health issues in their own backyard sets an example for other communities to do the same. The high rates for diabetes in the Hispanic community can be reduced with this kind of effort,” said Fogarty.
By Kathy Peyton, Special to the Tribune