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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.

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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 monitor you."

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 mall."
  • 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 says.

"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 ABCs.

  • 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.

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Reviewed on January 12, 2004

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People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

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Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

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