Preventing Diabetes in Our Own Backyard

Today’s guest blog comes from Indiana State Rep. Vanessa Summers.


Ten years ago, I left the doctor’s office with a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes.

I was floored. It was like someone hit me in the head. Coming from an African American family, diabetes unfortunately is all too familiar. My grandmother was diabetic. I had a cousin who lost a limb, due to diabetes, and later died. I also have several other cousins and extended family who have Type 2 diabetes. And now I to was living with diabetes. I left that appointment on four shots of insulin a day. 

And it’s not just me. I live in a diabetes “hot spot” – meaning a concentration of people living in that area have diabetes. Diabetes has our community by the neck.

One of the contributing factors is lack of access to fresh food in my community.  After our major grocery store closed, the only options we’re left with are fast food and processed foods. It’s important to integrate fresh food back into the community so that people know how to cook and know how to eat. Right now, we have a generation of people that don’t know what to do with fresh food. We must get back to the point where we’re cooking our own food.

In the African American community we are used to people “having a little sugar,” as they say. Over the years, with no major awareness and prevention efforts, diabetes has reached epidemic proportion. We now have teenagers, and even kids as young as six, seven and eight, who are coming up with Type 2 diabetes because they’re not eating properly. And we just accept it.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

It’s taken me 10 years to figure that out. The unspoken culture had me. For awhile, I resisted. I didn’t check my sugar, and I didn’t eat right. Diabetes can be a silent disease – you can feel okay until something is really wrong. There were days I even forgot I was diabetic.

Now I check my sugars. I eat properly. I meal prep. I exercise. I’ve lost weight. I’ve lost inches. I take only one shot of insulin a day.

It took me a long time to come around, but 10 years later, I finally get it.

I am now the Program Coordinator for the National Diabetes Prevention Program with Indiana Minority Health Coalition. NDPP is lifestyle modification program targeting those with pre-diabetes. Change is slow. It’s a process. It’s a learning experience. This is going to be a long road, but we’re going to have to do this step by step. We have to re-educate the community on a new way to eat and a new way to live. We have to meet people where they are and bring them along.  

We have to come together to address this problem. The Diabetes Impact Project recently announced by Lilly brings together the private sector, public sector, educational institutions and members of the community to reduce the incidence of diabetes in three Indianapolis neighborhoods – where the incidence of diabetes can be up to 17.5 percent, almost double the national rate.

We also have to look at how we can advocate for change in the policy arena. During this legislative session, our Governor signed HB 1175 – a bill that I authored – into law. This bill will require the State of Indiana to bring together partners from all sectors to develop a strategic plan to address the diabetes epidemic in our state.

Diabetes doesn’t have to be your destiny. We’ve got to shake things up and create a generation that wants to fight it. We can do this together. 

Learn more about Lilly's Diabetes Impact Project in this video.

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