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Halle Berry, Patti Labelle, Angie Stone and Anthony Anderson all have one thing in common aside from their celebrity. They all suffer from diabetes. In fact, Anderson and Stone are the spokespeople for the Eli Lilly’s F.A.C.E. initiative, a campaign to provide African-Americans with support and information about diabetes.

Diabetes impacts African-Americans disproportionately due to family history, stress, lifestyle and often obesity. It can lead to other illnesses, like heart disease, kidney failure and blindness. There are over 26 million Americans who have diabetes and over 50 million with “pre-diabetes.”

Knowing more about the causes an impact of diabetes may help you and your family stay healthy. Read on for five facts you should know.


No one really knows exactly what causes diabetes, but they can tell you that African-Americans, Puerto Ricans and other people of color tend to get it more than other groups. Factors including stress and obesity can contribute to diabetes, and family history is often a factor.

While obesity does not appear to cause diabetes, there are many cases of overweight people who are at a greater risk for the disease. (For the most part, we are talking about Type 2 diabetes here. Type 1, often called juvenile diabetes, is often diagnosed in children and young people.) If you have a family history of diabetes, are overweight and Hispanic or African-American, your risk is statistically higher.

Keep in mind that lifestyle changes can prevent the disease. Anyone who suffers from diabetes will tell you that it’s much easier to take preventative measures than to manage diabetes after you have it.


If you have pre-diabetes, it means that your blood glucose, or blood sugar, is high, but not high enough to be diabetes. It is a warning sign that you need to make some lifestyle changes to prevent it. Insulin resistance is another warning sign; it means that you are producing insulin, but because your body is not absorbing it, you must produce more, which eventually leads to diabetes. (It is why diabetics must take insulin, which your body needs to allow sugar to reach cells.) If you’re overweight, one way to combat these pre-diabetic conditions is to lose 5 to 7 percent of your overall body weight. (That’s about 10 to 15 pounds if you weigh 200 pounds.)

A few common warning signs for these conditions – excess fat around the waist (35 or more inches for women, 40 for men) and often dark patches on the elbows, back of the neck, knees, knuckles or armpits. But many people have no symptoms at all, so it’s important to have your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels checked if you have a family history or are at risk for diabetes. If you are overweight, smoking and/or on birth control pills, you should be tested immediately, as pre-diabetes can accelerate heart disease and stroke risk.


Common symptoms for those who already have diabetes are excessive thirst and urination and blurred vision. Excessive means that no matter how much water you drink, you get no relief from thirst. Blurred vision means that your uncorrected or corrected vision starts to worsen dramatically.

If you have any of these symptoms and if they have been going on for a while, you should see a doctor immediately, as elevated blood sugar levels can be extremely dangerous, if not fatal. Not every overweight person – even those who are morbidly obese – will get diabetes, but if you are obese and have a family history diabetes, you should make sure you know your numbers – blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and waist measurement.


Ladies, please take note: Many of us, as African-American woman, are just too big, and that is increasing our risk for adverse conditions. If you are “thick,” “big-boned,” “curvy,” “plus-sized” or “full-figured,” you could also be heading towards diabetes. (But keep in mind, even thin people can be diabetic.) Even if you are thin, but your waist is not, you could be at risk.

For mothers especially; taking better care of yourself means being able to take care of your family. If you know anyone who has been challenged by diabetes, you know that it can attack everything in your body and is one of the leading causes of both blindness and amputation. Maybe you can’t imagine those things for yourself, but it can happen to you if you don’t pay attention to warning signs. Keep in mind that diabetes is often accompanied by extreme fatigue, something that most mothers know all too well. If your fatigue levels seem to be increasing, and there is no physical reason why, it’s time to get checked out.


Whether it’s African dance, step class, walking, running or doing exercise tapes in your living room, exercising and eating healthy can change your life. Yes, we are all going to die someday, but years of misery and incapacitation don’t have to be the prelude. Encourage someone to get moving. Instead of post-work happy hours at the club or restaurant, try spending some post-work happy hours walking in a park or even a mall.

What could be happier or more stress-defying than taking charge of your health and having the ability to enjoy your life? No matter what anyone tells you, health is wealth, and if you don’t have it, your enjoyment of life will be limited.