Black Men and Diabetes: Preventing It, Managing It
African Americans have a 50% chance of developing diabetes, but most black men pay little heed to the warnings -- and pay the price. Fortunately, type 2 diabetes is both preventable and manageable.
African-American men need to know how to prevent type 2
diabetes and how to control it if they already have it, says Coleman. "A
lot of people have a fatalistic attitude that if your mother and your father
and your grandmother had diabetes, that you're destined to have it and there's
nothing you can do about it, and that's just not true."
"Start by setting achievable goals," advises Jane
Kelly, MD, director of the National Diabetes Education Program, a joint effort
of the CDC and the National Institutes of Health. "Not just long-term goals
like losing 50 pounds, but goals for next Tuesday. Set goals like walking 10
minutes a day, or having one scoop of ice cream for dessert instead of two.
Small steps add up. Write them down and commit to them, and ask a friend to
Some simple strategies to add healthy, diabetes-prevention
strategies into your lifestyle:
- Share your dessert. "Many people in the African-American community tell
us that it's rude not to eat when someone offers food, so instead of passing up
something you enjoy and offending your host, split dessert with a friend,"
says Kelly. And if your host urges you to take seconds, skip the potatoes and
bread and ask for more of the green stuff!
- Build exercise into your day. "You don't have to take an hour off work
to exercise," Kelly says. "Get off the bus one stop earlier, or park
your car at the far side of the lot whenever you go to the grocery store or the
- Drink more water. "Find a souvenir water bottle you really like, such
as something with the logo of your favorite sports team, or your church,"
says Kelly. "Keep it with you as encouragement to drink more water instead
of taking in calories from sugary sodas and juices."
These same strategies of maintaining a healthy diet and getting
more exercise can help black men -- and anyone with diabetes -- manage their
condition if they already have the disease. "There's a medical model myth
that taking care of your diabetes means taking your medicine. Although
medication is important, managing diabetes is about lifestyle," Kelly
"A lot of people think that once they're diagnosed with
diabetes, they have to stop eating sugar altogether, and they have to eat all
this expensive 'diabetic food,'" Coleman says. "That's not true. You
simply have to eat a balanced diet, three meals a day, and eliminate simple
sugars. No, you can't have cakes and doughnuts and candy, but you can have
fruit, and you can have things like frozen yogurt."
Another key to managing diabetes, says Kelly: know your
- A is your hemoglobin A1c level, which tells you how well you're
managing your blood sugar. Keeping A1c levels at 7 or below reduces the risk of
eye, kidney, and nerve damage.
- B is your blood pressure. The goal is to maintain a reading of
130/80 or below to protect your kidneys and eyes and prevent stroke.
- C is your cholesterol. Have your doctor check your cholesterol level
and keep it within a safe range. LDL or "bad" cholesterol should be
less than 100 mg/dL.
"If you keep an eye on these numbers and work with your
doctor to keep them out of the danger zone, you can keep diabetes under
control," Kelly says.