Conversations about the diabetic epidemic in African Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos, which do not include its companion obesity, only paints half of the real picture. Diabetes targeted in this discussion is type 2. Type 1 diabetes is genetically derived; it is the body’s inability to produce insulin. This type usually affects children and young adults. Type 2 is caused by unhealthy eating and lifestyle choices over a period of time. This type usually is characteristic of older adults, but lately has been seen in children as well.
This problem is personal for me, as I have recently been diagnosed with diabetes. I never thought that this would be an issue for me, and that my weight and food choices would become so out of hand. However, here I am facing this dreaded nightmare. Unwilling to confront this health crisis, but unable to dodge it, was the deciding factor to focus this discussion on diabetes and finding realistic solutions.
One solution for curing diabetes, was introduced to me this summer, community gardening. The viability of this solution is simple and plain to see, albeit not necessary an easy one. It requires different thought processes about food and how to obtain it. Community gardening is not a solo endeavor; as the name indicates, it involves the cooperation and participation of others.
Diabetes it’s Complicated
When diagnosed with diabetes, other medical complications often arise. Not only is the body not producing enough insulin, but diabetes also causes a person’s metabolism to slow down, which impedes weight loss, key to a diabetic’s recovery. Other more serious complications are heart disease, blindness, amputations and kidney disease. Surely nothing anyone purposely brings on.
There are different levels of diabetes. Those with less serious diagnosis are prescribed a specific medication to take once or twice a day, and combined with lifestyle changes the goal is to reverse diabetes. For others, their insulin producing capacity is more compromised and insulin shots are required each day and sometimes more than once a day.
Unfortunately, regardless of the level of severity, medication sometimes give diabetics a false sense of well-being. Many diabetics feel that they can eat whatever they want whenever they want, because they depend on the medication to keep their blood glucose levels normal. However, this is an egregious mistake that can lead to other medical complications.
Diabetes also takes an emotional toll, sometimes resulting in depression, with women being diagnosed twice as much as men. In addition, stress is often associated with the disease. Moreover, the cost of treating this disease is a multi-billion dollar expense yearly. In a report for just the state of Oregon the cost of treating diabetes is 1.4 billion dollars per year. Therefore strategies for reducing this preventable disease are long overdue.
Arizona Navajo Indian Tribes Fighting Diabetes
Community gardening among Navajo Indian tribes in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico have been instituted to help combat the rise of diabetes. Diabetes among the Navajos is contributed to the adoption of western eating patterns. “Diabetes is not in the Navajo tradition. Called ‘the sugar illness’ the historical progression of diabetes is correlated with colonization by westward expansion of the USA in the 1800’s, and often poor federal policy toward Indigenous people that resulted.”
The benefit of community gardening encourages the much needed consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. Not including fresh produce in the diet directly contributes to diabetes. Gardening also saves the community money, and helps people to be self-sufficient and not dependent on the packaged foods available at isolated trading posts. Additionally, gardening encourages exercise, a key component in the treatment and prevention of diabetes.
Gardening: A Learned Behavior.
The value of local gardening is not a message that has stood the test of time in the American environment, which tends to focus on instant results. Too much of the general population does not recognize the correlation between food and health. In addition, when looking at diabetes, not everyone affected is at the poverty level. Although statistics support that more people with diabetes are poor, findings are that the middle working class are also at risk. One of the reasons is that they have brought into the propaganda they should be able to eat what they can afford.
Just recently, I watched an episode of a reality television show called “Restaurant Impossible.” On the show an expert visits failing restaurants and provide the owners with new menu items, clean up when necessary, and invest ten-thousand dollars in a redesign of the restaurant. One of the new and improved menu items was smoked chicken; after smoking the chicken the chef then slathered butter on it, grilled it, and covered it with barbecue sauce and served it with potatoes, and I don’t remember seeing a vegetable. Nevertheless, this is a prescription for disaster.
Also, consider the restaurant Applebee’s; I was shocked to find out that most of their entrees are over a thousand calories and also slathered with butter and salt. I am afraid to eat there now. Middle-class Americans are frequenting these restaurants. Therefore making the change to healthier eating is a huge and difficult endeavor.
Excessive consumption of the wrong kinds of food can be addictive. Specifically sugar as stated in an article by Melanie A. Greenberg, Ph.D. “Sugar consumption also leads to release of endogenous opioids in the brain; leading to a rush of pleasure, similar (although not of the same magnitude) as injecting heroin.” Another addictive substance is salt. “Brain scans show sodium triggers dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, which can mean the more salt you eat, the more you want. Sodium also boosts insulin production, which leads to weight gain” (Johnson). The issue with food addiction is that it is not considered serious because it is very common and is accepted as a bad habit. The causes of food addiction covers a multitude of other issues such as social problems, stress, loneliness, heartbreak, rejection and the list goes on. Because of the addictive behavior of diabetics, who are most often over weight or obese, making lifestyle changes for some seem unattainable. However, the situation is far from hopeless.
One of the key factors in combating diabetes is to educate by introducing the concept of community gardening or even a private garden. Both gardens would foster healthier eating. Eating food that is personally grown makes people feel great about their accomplishments. The hard work associated with the process of planting (sowing) and reaping is a universal concept, not to mention the physical labor component. Consuming five to nine serving of fruits and vegetables per day is important to improving the overall health of diabetics. A community garden educates a neighborhood. It not only provides an inexpensive way to stay healthy but it fosters a sense of togetherness. It helps people to know who their neighbors are and less likely to perpetrate a crime against someone they have “labored in the vineyard” with. Making difficult lifestyle changes with others else is always easier. If gardening is not feasible, educating diabetics to purchase food locally through seasonal farmers’ markets begins the journey to healthier food choices.
In a society where sustainability is a foreign term when it comes to food, some will need to be led step-by-step. Gardening does not sound like it is radical, but to many urbanites it is. Grandma may only be thirty-five years old, so the tradition of growing your own food has long gone cold. In order to help the concept of community gardening grow, the Department of Human Services should pay communities to start their own gardens. As part of the SNAP program, which provides food assistance to low income families, classes on the benefits of gardening should be mandatory. Staff should be available to help people understand how to garden. Gardening is an art. The process has been lost with commercialization. Therefore, in order to go back to the basics, the basics must be re-taught.
American Diabetes Association. n.d. Web. 24 07 2013. <http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/type-1/>.
Greenberg, Melanie A. Ph.D. Psychology Today. 05 02 2013. Web. 24 07 2013. <http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-mindful-self-express/201302/why-our-brains-love-sugar-and-why-our-bodies-dont>.
Johnson, Lorie. CBN News: Health and Science. 18 9 2012. Web. 24 7 2013. <www.cbn.com/cbnnews/healthscience/2011/june/salt-solution-how-to-cut-sodium-from-your-diet/>.
Lombard, K A, et al. “Diabetes on the Navajo Nation.” Rural and Remote Health (2006). Web. 22 07 2013. <www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17044752>.
Oregon Department of Human Services. Reversing the trends of obesity and diabetes. A Report to the 2009 Oregon Legislature from the HB 3486 Advisory Committee. Portland: Oregon Department of Human Services, 2009. Web. <http://public.health.oregon.gov/diseasesconditions/chronicdisease/diabetes/documents/hb3486/diabstratgicplnsm.pdf>.