How Diabetes and the Environment Are Linked
One in 10 U.S. Latinos aged 20 and older have diagnosed diabetes, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Like many Hispanics in the country, my family has its fair share of diabetics and we are all too familiar with the different types of diabetes: Type 2 diabetes -- the most common form of diabetes -- gestational diabetes, pre-diabetes, diabetes that require insulin, diabetes controlled by diet alone, foot sores and other ailments associated with the disease. We, too, are familiar with the confusion and fear of where these diseases come from and whether they will take another life in our family.
Diabetes, by the way, is a group of diseases distinguished by high levels of blood glucose due to defects in insulin production. Diabetes if left untreated can lead to serious complications like blindness and foot amputations, and even premature death. According to the National Institutes of Health, diabetes is one of the leading causes of death and disability in the United States with healthcare and related costs totaling $174 billion annually.
Both my maternal grandmother and aunt -- her daughter -- died of heart failure. My aunt died of a heart attack at the age of 52 in front of her then 12-year-old son. Both women battled with their weight and Type 2 diabetes. My mother has Type 2 diabetes. Because of my family's history with the disease as well as the amount of weight I gained in my two pregnancies -- I ended up giving birth to two large babies -- our doctors have always monitored me and my children for diabetes.
The fear of becoming diabetic motivates me to eat as healthy as possible and to exercise. But there is one aspect of the disease for which I have no control: the environment.
The first time I learned of an outside connection to diabetes was in California when I advocated for the phasing out of a toxic chemical called bisphenol-A (BPA) from plastic baby products like bottles and sippy cups. At the time, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a major study linking BPA to diabetes and heart disease. It was then that I stopped putting plastic bowls in the microwave oven, switched to glass bottles for my toddler and opted to buy BPA-free products instead.
Most recently, I read a book (pictured above), titled The Buena Salud Guide to Diabetes and Your Life by Jane L. Delgado, Ph.Dl, M.S., who also happens to be the president and CEO of the National Alliance for Hispanic Health. Dr. Delgado not only addressed lifestyle choices associated with diabetes like inactivity and a poor diet, but she also went into detail about how our toxic environment could contribute to more cases of diabetes. Here is what she had to say about the impact of air pollution on our health:
What we know for sure is that there are too many pollutants and toxic substances and that EPA keeps track of too few of them....Airborne toxics include benzene (which is found in gasoline), dioxin, asbestos, and toluene and metals such as cadmium, mercury, chromium, and lead compounds. Keep in mind that sometimes the most hazardous particles to breathe are the ones that you cannot see.
Dr. Delgado suggested that families take inventory and reduce the toxic chemicals they are exposed to, including "household cleaning products, bug sprays, paint, garden and plant chemicals, and so on."
I would take Dr. Delgado's advice a step further. For too long we have allowed private industry to pollute in the name of putting personal profits over the health of the larger community. Why not tell the EPA to do its job and help us reduce toxins in our air? Here is the website to do that.
We have control over whether or not we exercise, and for the most part, what we feed our families. We don't have control over the air that we breathe. The least that polluters can do is to clean up their act, or foot the bill for our health care.