In Appalachia, Many People Just Assume They'll Get Diabetes

By Valerie Ross | August 8, 2012 11:55 am

Diabetes has become a common condition around the country, affecting about one in six Americans. But in Appalachia, the rate is twice that: One person of every three in the region is diabetic—and many people believe there’s no way they can avoid it. Over at Salon, Frank Browning details how diabetes has become an all-too-familiar part of life in the region:

[Health worker Lora Hamilton] says most people are resigned — and believe there’s nothing they can do. “They tell me, ‘I’ve got diabetes or I’m going to get it. I’m just gonna have to live with it. My granddad lost a leg. My grandmother was on dialysis.’ And what I say is, ‘Well, you know you can keep that from happening by taking care of yourself.’”

Several local health centers are aiming to teach people to do just that, as well as screening for the disease and providing additional treatment. But the barriers here are particularly high, health workers say: Not only are the costs of treatment often prohibitive, fried foods are ubiquitous in the region, and a fatalistic acceptance of the disease has become the norm. Browning writes:

Angie Conley, a nurse and diabetic counselor at Hope, offers free classes to talk about diabetes prevention and self-management, but she says few people come, even though they know how prevalent the disease is in their families. “They’re open to anybody,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “It’s in the newspapers. It’s on the radio. But they don’t come,” Conley says.

The health centers have met with some success, officials say, such as more people coming in for screening. But that’s a small victory given that half the population of the region is estimated to be diabetic in 25 years, if things keep going the way they are.

Read the rest at Salon.

Image courtesy of Matt Gibson / Flickr

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Tony Mach

    This is an unmitigated disaster.

    And all the while we are told that eating like our ancestors is bad. Red meat? Bad. Saturated fat? Bad. What’s good? Grains, lots of cereal. And lots of vegetable oil, with those good omega-6 PUFAs! Funny thing is, people eat more of that good stuff, and less of that bad stuff (go look up the statistics), and yet the diseases of civilization get more.


    May I suggest dropping the following items from our diet (as a start), which are some of the items that are a evolutionary recent addition to our diet?
    – Vegetable oils.
    – Cereal grain products.
    – Dairy *

    That’s called Paleo, BTW. And no, it is not a “meat only” cavemen diet – eat half meat/half vegies, to taste. Eat fruits. Eat what our ancestors ate. The further back in time, the better.

    I know, it is a radical idea to ask yourself what the environment was that we were adapted to, and to look for causes of illnesses in changes in said environment – but hey, I blame Darwin for coming up with the idea the first place!


    * (Ghee/clarified butter is OK, BTW)

  • Chris

    I don’t think we need to go to that extreme. Cutting down on processed foods and added sugars and adding more walking or biking instead of diving will do a lot of the health of the country. I cook my food at home from scratch. Usually costs less than if I had eaten out. Also don’t be afraid to splurge on some higher quality ingredients. Good food means good health and you’ll save a bunch on medical costs. Sad thing is insurance will pay for medication to treat the disease, but not for healthy foods which could have prevented the disease and would cost much less. We should be taxing soda and candy and use those taxes to reduce the price of fresh fruits and vegetables.

  • Cody

    I second Chris’s post—exercise and healthy food in healthy quantities seems to be very effective methods of preventing diabetes.

  • Victor C. Ashby

    Diabetes comes together with obesity. The best way to prevent this is to keep your body healthy. me comments so that we can share experience.
    I’m a little bit overweight which makes me not confident when standing in front of men… Currently I’m joining a water aerobics class. I even shared my journey to a slim body here: water aerobics equipment. Hope that with all those motivations, I’ll reach my goal of having a healthy body and a young looking soon.

  • Michael Johnson

    Tony Mach’s post is ridiculous.

    ‘The further back in time the better’. What do lungfish eat? It’s specious reasoning. You can’t assume that what people ate in the past was better for them unless you can assume there’s been no evolution since then. And a lot of people think that agriculture and cooking foods has driven quite a bit of evolution.

  • John Lerch

    Tony, no one said to eat lots of refined grain. And just because lots of meat is good for hunter-gatherer doesn’t mean it’s good for sedentary people. And no one says the main component of omega 6 FF’s are good (GLA is the exception). Now if you had said to stop eating high fructose corn syrup that’s different. HFCS decreases our ability to taste the fun flavors so you need more just to get some pizzaz; whereas sucrose increases our ability to taste the fun flavors. The artificial sweeteners mostly don’t increase our ability to get pizzaz out of our food, the exception being acesulfame.

  • jasonganesh

    It should also be borne in mind that diabetes is closely (but not exclusively) correlated to poverty, a socio-economic phenomenon. All the dietary and health advice in the world will not change the structural inequalities that lead to poverty, and Appalachia is not exactly known for being on the higher end of the income scale or one of the more “developed” areas in the nation. It is probably true that dietary patterns in the region help contribute to bad health, not just diabetes but also hypertension and coronary heart disease (metabolic syndrome, anyone?), but a diet high in fats, simple carbs and highly refined foods does not lead to a self-perceived loss of control over health. The loss of agency in regard to one’s own health more likely comes from social phenomena: misinformation about the role of genes in determining health, differential access to fresh (less processed) foods, culturally determined notions about what exactly is un/healthy, a general perception of loss of self-determination, reliance on government food programs, nutritional propaganda from the government and food industries, confusion over conflicting “expert” advice and information overload. The list could probably go on; however, the point is that reducing diabetes in a population (or getting individuals to care about it) is waaaaaay more complex than merely recommending the elimination of certain foods or the adoption of certain habits.

  • JimmyDean Breakfastsausage

    Tony Mach said:
    “And all the while we are told that eating like our ancestors is bad. Red meat? Bad. Saturated fat? Bad. What’s good? Grains, lots of cereal. And lots of vegetable oil, with those good omega-6 PUFAs!”

    No one except KFC has been telling people to eat more fried food or more processed food. No one has been telling people to eat deep fried butter, gallons of pop and massive steaks covered with gravy and fried chicken.

    Personally, I like modern fruit, nuts and vegetables. But if you want to eat tiny wild grain seeds and weeds, be my guest.

  • Geack

    @2. Chris: “…splurge on some higher quality ingredients. Good food means good health…” Just for the record, we should keep food snobbery out of nutrition discussions. A pantry full of canned veggies and dried beans, with some cheap ground meat and noodles in the right amounts, will keep you just as healthy as a fortune’s worth of boutique heirloom dry-farmed veggies and sushi-grade imported fish. There’s no earthly reason eating healthily should be expensive.

  • Daniel J. Andrews

    Paleo-diet is a great idea–find out first hand why life expectancy was half of what it is now. 😉

    Yes, I know, an oversimplification. Read with tongue-in-cheek.


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