Friday, February 23, 2018
Health

Why no 3-Day walk for diabetes?

Last Sunday morning, we were riding our bikes along St. Petersburg's downtown waterfront, watching finish-line preparations for the area's final Komen 3-Day walk for breast cancer.

Soon, pink-clad walkers would arrive — many with blisters and aches I cannot begin to imagine — for a triumphant, yet bittersweet celebration.

I wondered what will happen to all the passion, energy and resources that went into this event. True, it's being canceled because of declining participation. But drawing 850 people who raised $2.2 million for research, walked 60 miles in three days — and camped on the nights in between — is an awesome thing that must not be minimized.

The more I thought about what events like the 3-Day have accomplished, the less I thought about cash and the more I thought about consciousness.

I am old enough to remember when the phrase "breast cancer'' was heard only in whispers, as if it were shameful.

Now we have gala parties celebrating ta-tas, a former Vegas showgirl raising funds for breast reconstruction, billboards touting pink pizza boxes and NFL players scoring touchdowns in pink shoes and gloves.

Skeptical as I am of some pink commerce, I can deal with it when I consider an important side effect: The shame is gone.

This got me thinking of diabetes, another health threat that could use the same kind of love.

November is Diabetes Awareness Month, a good time to review the numbers:

• 26 million: Americans with diabetes.

• 79 million: Americans at risk due to elevated blood sugar (prediabetes).

• Two- to four-fold: Increased rate at which diabetics die of heart disease and stroke.

• $245 billion: Total cost of diagnosed diabetes in the U.S. in 2012 — including medical costs and lost productivity.

Given how many people are affected, why isn't there a 3-Day for diabetes?

I know, I know, the pancreas can never compete with breasts for sex appeal. And cancer of all kinds strikes particular terror, even though more of us die of heart disease.

Here's another observation: In nearly five years as the Times health editor, I have noticed that every time we write about diabetes, especially the most common Type 2 form, I hear some form of this question from a few readers: Why don't they just lose weight?

Obesity is indeed fueling the Type 2 diabetes epidemic, though there are slim people with diabetes and fat people who don't have it. But the question presumes weight loss is simple. All the latest science indicates this most assuredly is not the case.

The question also betrays the culture of shame around obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

I would never suggest that a person with diabetes give up on sound diet and exercise, as well as the medications their physicians recommend. Their health, and lives, depend on taking action.

But the task they face is made harder by the assumption that obesity and diabetes are outward signs of inner weakness.

I wonder how many people have felt too ashamed or fearful of judgment to seek the help they need. Given that diabetes requires constant vigilance, this kind of shame can kill.

Diabetes advocates are working hard to raise funds and awareness. Just two recent examples: JDRF's Dream Gala last month raised more than $500,000 for research. Next week, there is the 5K Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes at the University of South Florida. Go to diabetes.org and click the "in my community'' tab to see just how much is going on.

But as breast cancer's pink ribbon campaign shows, when you're seeking not only to raise funds but also to change minds, more definitely can be more.

No shame in that.

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