“Alejese de la azucar señorita, alejese por su bien.” Those words, lovingly said por mi abuelito, echoed in my mind this past week when I read the World Health Organization’s first ever report on diabetes which reported some pretty terrifying statistics, among them:
- Diabetes cases have quadrupled worldwide from 108 million cases in 1980 to an estimated 422 million cases in 2014.¹
- The majority of people living with diabetes are affected with type 2. This statistic crushes me because although type 2 diabetes does have a genetic component to it is precipitated or exacerbated by lifestyle factors such as obesity and living a sedentary lifestyle which are within our control thus preventable according to the World Health Organization! ¹
- Lack of physical activity and being overweight or obese were identified as risk factors associated with diabetes; the prevalence of obesity was highest in the Americas.¹
- The fourth most affected region by diabetes is the Americas with 62 million cases.¹
But the conversation of diabetes gets even more terrifying on U.S. soil especially for Latinos.
- 29.1 million of Americans have diabetes.²
- 86 million Americans have pre-diabetes.²
- 1 in 2 Hispanic men and women and non-Hispanic black women are expected to develop the disease.³
- Hispanics have a 51% higher death rate from diabetes than whites.³
- Hispanic people are more likely than non-Hispanics to develop prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.³
- Latinos have the second highest obesity rate in the United States after African-Americans that affects women at higher rates than men. ⁴
- Latino children are facing an obesity crisis of their own, as they are the youth demographic with the highest obesity rate in the United States. ⁵
Let’s Embrace Our Health
The statistics mentioned above for Latinos are disheartening and terrifying. The greatest threat to our future as a community isn’t Trump or that wall Enrique Peña Nieto is supposed to pay for but the health problems faced by our community. We are a community of 57 million strong that is made up of individual members and almost half of them are operating at less than optimal health. If our strength is in our numbers, we have to rally as a community to enact health initiatives and craft the right messages that eradicate such dangerous health statistics.
Being part of the American and Latino cultures, Latinos are bombarded with messages that further exacerbate and perpetuate our obesity and diabetes epidemic. As Latinos, we’ve bought into the cultural myth that being “hermoso” and embracing our “curvas peligrosos” is ideal. From our abuelitas to our mothers, it is pervasive in Latino culture to see all food as good and nourishing when in reality sometimes nourishment is confused with rich, indulging food. On the other hand, American culture, which tends to generally operate in extremes, is promoting messages of unhealthy lifestyles under the guise of body confidence, body acceptance, and glamorizing plus size women. The politically incorrect truth is that modern day feminists and mainstream media have tacitly made being fat equivalent to empowerment which is dangerous to girls and women of all colors but especially to Latinos since we are such a highly connected culture that over-indexes in media consumption which heightens the constant exposure to such dangerous messages. I don’t believe that “embracing your curves” should mean being comfortable at an unhealthy weight. I don’t believe that strong women are those that remain comfortable at unhealthy weights and resist the pressure to conform to society’s unrealistic standards but those who are not only brutally honest with themselves about their health (notice I didn’t say weight because I believe in being healthy above anything and everything) but who also develop the resolve to do something about it. A strong woman is one who takes her health into her hands and only seeks validation from the woman staring back at her in the mirror, goes against what is easy, and gets healthy for herself because she wants to be the best, most healthy versions of herself. It takes strength not to maintain the status quo of an unhealthy lifestyle but to break it and continuously work towards creating new, healthy habits. The politically incorrect truth is that a majority of the body image messages bombarding our youth encourages them to get comfortable with unhealthy habits, which frankly is too easy and characteristic of the weak and the undisciplined. Mainstream media should disperse messages that empower girls and women with tools to lift themselves out of unhealthy habits that are robbing them of their future and health.
I understand that being overweight or obese could be caused by many reasons such as a food addiction, medicating with food to mask trauma or emotions, or medical conditions such as PCOS or hormonal imbalances. I am not so cruel or insensitive to equate being overweight or obesity with laziness. What I am saying is that if mainstream media and those with influential platforms send messages to embrace your curves and to embrace an unhealthy body riddled with medical and emotional/mental problems that go unacknowledged then one allows the underlying cause of obesity or overweight to gain a deeper foothold and go unresolved and control you. Allowing unhealthy habits to control someone isn’t empowering but taking control of your health, the underlying causes of weight gain, and changing day by day to overcome self is the better message mainstream media should send; it’s the harder message but one that will be worthwhile in the long run and can combat our diabetes and obesity epidemic across cultural lines.
It’s not simply enough to send a different message but we have to redefine health to include a more holistic approach where by mental and spiritual aspects are also taken into account which I will further address in part two of this topic.