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Health Equity Forum: Ethnic Partner Spotlight – July 2015

California Can't Wait to Fight Diabetes

By Xavier Morales, Executive Director, Latino Coalition for a Healthy California

We need to start adressing the diabetes epidemic that is impacting our communities with devastating consequences. California must get out in front of this preventable disease that is disproportionately affecting communities of color.

To “get” diabetes in our communities has become normal. As I travel across California where we host regional meetings from as far north as Eureka to El Centro in the south and all points in between, it saddens me when I ask those in the audience to raise their hands if someone in their immediate family has diabetes. It saddens me even more when I ask them if they have diabetes and they answer me, “Not yet” or “Todavia no.”

We cannot afford to wait any longer to take action.

Diabetes is already one of the leading causes of death for Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans, Asians, and Pacific Islanders in our state. Over 43% of the Latinos, 40.3% of Native Americans, 39.3% of African Americans, and 38.7% of Asians and Pacific Islanders admitted to California hospitals in 2011 had diabetes. In some counties, the rate for Latinos is much higher (for example: Merced—49%; Yolo—48%; and Tulare and Imperial 46%)—when compared to the state average of 31% for the total population.

While we continue to make strides to increase nutrition education, raise awareness of healthier eating practices, and also of the need to increase physical activity, the rates of diabetes continue to climb. But we will not move the needle on diabetes until we fully prioritize this public health crisis through the development of a dedicated revenue source that truly reflects the investment and commitment that is needed to comprehensively curb this epidemic.

If we do nothing, it has already been predicted that 50% of Latino and African American children born since the year 2000 will develop type 2 diabetes during their lifetime. This is unacceptable!

The research that sugary beverages have a direct link with diabetes is incontrovertible; the links to obesity are even more established. We also know that the consumption of sugary drinks is a major driver of fatty liver disease, cardiovascular and heart disease, stroke, pancreatic cancer, and kidney disease. These health impacts are the result of beverages sweetened with either sugar or high fructose corn syrup.

Soda, energy and sports drinks, sweetened water, and fruit drinks are the largest source of daily calories for adolescents in the US.

Moreover, sugar sweetened beverage consumption is highest among groups that have the highest risk of type 2 diabetes. Latinos, Native Americans, African Americans and Asians and Pacific Islanders are even more vulnerable due to genetic factors that make our bodies even more sensitive to the overconsumption of sugar.

Consider that the economic consequences of diabetes in California have been estimated at over $24 billion, and that it has been calculated that economic burden of diabetes and prediabetes on the average person is estimated to be over $700 for every man, woman and child. This amount represents a hidden “tax” paid by all through higher insurance premiums.

It makes sense to place a fee on the biggest driver of this disease with the intent of investing these resources for prevention in the zip codes that exhibit the highest rates of disease.

Given the elevated economic costs of diabetes, it is incredible that, according to the California State Auditor, California’s per capita funding for diabetes prevention is one of the lowest in the nation. The California State Auditor’s office recommends that, “If state lawmakers desire Public Health to increase its efforts to address diabetes, they should consider providing state funding to aid in those efforts.”

There is an effort to do just that.

This spring, AB 1357 (Bloom) would have enabled the State to invest in communities disproportionately burdened by diseases related to the consumption of sugary drinks, especially type 2 diabetes. Though it did not advance this year, the bill would have supported comprehensive prevention efforts to reduce the diabetes epidemic in California through a 2 cent per ounce fee on sugary drinks distributed in the state. We are committed to continuing these efforts in the future.

Why are we picking on sugared water? Again, going back to the research, sugary drinks are the largest source of daily calories for children ages 2-18 in the US. Moreover, sugar sweetened beverage consumption is highest among groups that have the highest risk of type 2 diabetes. And when our children see 90% more ads for sugary drinks, we need to stand up and say enough! Ya basta!

This issue will not go away. We are going to keep coming back until the day that we don’t have to bury our family members from this insidious disease that is so easily preventable.