9 Myths About Diabetes and the Hispanic Community
If you’re reading this, maybe it’s because you have diabetes. Or maybe your aunt does. Or a friend has been telling you about his struggles with the disease. Odds are, this chronic condition has touched your life in some way, and that’s not surprising, considering nearly 15% of Hispanics have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet misconceptions about diabetes abound, making it harder for people to get the treatment they need. Read on for nine common myths about diabetes and how they affect the Hispanic community.
Myth: It Runs in the Family
“People often think that if they have a history in their family of having diabetes, specifically type 2 diabetes, that they're doomed to also experience it,” says Beverly Yates, a naturopathic doctor and diabetes expert in San Francisco, and author of Heart Health for Black Women. That doesn’t have to be the case. With some mindfulness about making good food choices, like cutting out sugary drinks and reaching for more lean proteins and veggies, you can minimize your risk for type 2 diabetes.
Myth: Exercise Offsets Unhealthy Eating
Nah, you didn’t really think it was that easy, did you? “You need good nutrition and you need exercise together,” Yates says. Think of a car, she says: You need to put quality fuel in the engine and you need to run it often. “I always tell people, you can't out-exercise a bad diet. If you don’t eat well, all the exercise in the world is not going to help you.” So while staying active is always beneficial, it won’t save you from diabetes if you don’t also eat well.
Myth: Diabetes Is Your Fault
“Diabetes is the only chronic illness I can think of that people get blamed for—it’s assumed that they somehow failed and they have not taken care of themselves with regard to diet and exercise,” Yates says. While what you eat and your activity level play a part in your overall diabetes risk, other factors matter as well, and some are beyond your control. Take sleep and stress, for example: “People often don’t know how powerful stress and chronic poor sleep are in the expression of type 2 diabetes and prediabetes,” says Yates.
Myth: Cultural Foods Cause Diabetes
A lot of existing messaging paints foods from certain cultures as unhealthy contributors to chronic conditions. That leaves many people, like those in the Hispanic community, confused. Here’s the truth: While diabetes does require tweaking what you eat (if it involves foods big on fat and sugar), you can still enjoy what you love. “It’s just the frequency and portion sizes may need to change,” says Melissa Hawthorne, R.D., a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in Houston.
Myth: Income Doesn’t Matter
Unfortunately, when it comes to diabetes, it very much does. While anyone can get type 2 diabetes, minority, lower-income communities are more likely to be affected. “This is often due to environmental and social factors—people in these communities are less likely to have stable employment, which can bring on added stress and pressure,” Dr. Yates says. “They are also less likely to have an income that affords the ability to eat healthy because healthy foods cost more.”
Myth: Only Intense Exercise Reduces Risk
Being active does lower your odds of developing diabetes, but that certainly doesn’t mean training for a marathon or living at the gym. Simply find something you love to do, so you’ll be inclined to keep at it, Hawthorne says. For instance, a 30-minute stint of moderate exercise like walking or biking, most days of the week, can lower your risk. “The important thing is to move more, and that can be through dancing, walking or even gardening.”
Myth: Diabetes Is for Life
That’s true for type 1 diabetes, but type 2 diabetes may actually be reversible. With the guidance of a healthcare professional, you can take steps to lower your blood sugar and get your glucose levels under control, whether that’s through weight loss, changing medication dosage, ramping up your activity, or other doctor-approved recommendations. “Keep in mind, it’s not going to be fixed overnight, which is why long-term small changes are important,” Hawthorne says.
Myth: Only Adults Get Type 2
Type 2 diabetes is commonly viewed as an adult disease, but more children than ever are developing it now, especially in Hispanic and other minority communities, says Sheila Perez-Colon, M.D., a pediatric endocrinologist and diabetes expert in Miami. “A big part of this is that kids are spending more time at home with access to electronics—as well as unhealthy snacks, if they’re made available—rather than exercising and moving through activities.”
Myth: Boring Food Is the Answer
Eating a balanced diet that includes whole grains, fruits, and vegetables is important for everyone, everywhere. However, you certainly don’t have to sacrifice flavor to stay healthy, Dr. Perez-Colon says. “Make grocery shopping and cooking a family affair, explain to your kids why you’re choosing to buy broccoli and carrots rather than processed foods like chips or cookies, and find different ways to cook them.” With new seasonings and techniques (see: air-frying and grilling), you can still enjoy every bite.