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Latino advocates combat diabetes: “In order to save ourselves, work to be done”

Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez began blogging about living with diabetes in 2010. “It helped me find a community that would understand what I was going through,” she says.

Rodriguez, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was only seven-years-old, felt the need to share her experiences with other Latinos who suffer from the disease. “I don’t have it. I live with it,” she says.

By conducting workshops and covering the many facets of living with the disease on her website, Diabetes Types A Blog, Rodriguez says she has tried to position herself as a diabetes advocate in the Latino community.

“There were so many people of Latino descent – that had nowhere to turn to,” she says. “It’s about not having resources, not having education. We need the community to start educating themselves and want to be educated. In order to save ourselves, there’s a lot of work to be done.”

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Hispanic/Latino Americans, African Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islander Americans are at particularly high risk for type 2 diabetes.

According to the Office of Minority Health, Mexican Americans are almost twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to be diagnosed with diabetes by a physician. They also have higher rates of end-stage renal disease, caused by diabetes, and they are 50 percent more likely to die from diabetes than non-Hispanic whites. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also found that the disease is more prevalent in women– of the 25.6 million adults with diabetes in the United States in 2010, 12.6 million were women.

The rates are showing no signs of slowing down. A 2012 study released by research affiliates with the American Diabetes Association found that the number of Latino children and youth under 20 years of age diagnosed with diabetes is rapidly growing, faster than any other ethnic group in the U.S

Estela Barraza, director of Power1K Kids Program in Arizona, is working to prevent diabetes in Latino children. During the 12 week program she has developed, a group of overweight fourth and fifth graders are taught how to increase their physical activity, cook healthy meals, and make better choices. Because the program is centered on the entire family, parents are also required to attend.

Barraza believes that there are few diabetes interventions focused on Hispanic populations. “One of my biggest passions as been exercise,” she says. “My degree in Kinesiology has made me aware of the disparities and how exercise can prevent it.” In addition to her work at Power1K, Barraza is currently working with researchers on a study called Every Little Step Counts, a community-based diabetes prevention program for obese Latino youth.

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Por tu Familia, a Latino-focused program from the American Diabetes Association, is also committed to preventing diabetes through community-based activities. “The goal is to get rid of all misconceptions,” says Alexandra Santana, manager of Por tu Familia in Chicago.

During many of their events throughout the city, members of the community have the opportunity to ask doctors and other medical professionals any questions they might have about the disease. All of their activities are free and they often offer glucose and cholesterol screenings. They will be holding 10 events this month in celebration of Hispanic Heritage month.

Por Tu Familia also trains doctors, nurses, and anyone interested in promoting diabetes prevention and awareness to educate their patients or communities about the disease through their Promotores program. According to Santana, all the the training materials have been evaluated and approved by endocrinologists and doctors and are available in both languages.

“We’re celebrating that we are one of the key markets in the U.S.,” she says. “We want to continue improving and reaching out to more people.”

Erika L. Sanchez

Erika L. Sánchez is a poet and writer living in Chicago. She is currently the sex and love advice columnist for Cosmopolitan for Latinas and a contributor for The Huffington Post and other publications. She is a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship and the 2013 “Discovery”/Boston Review poetry prize. You can find her on TwitterFacebook, or www.erikalsanchez.com

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