I can honestly and boldly say that before interning with Latino Coalition for a Healthy California (LCHC) I was naive to the issues that were affecting Latinos. I knew that Latinos faced obstacles when it came to adequate health care, poverty and immigration but I was not aware of the severity of these disparities. Last month, I was able to witness up close one of the many battles Latinos face: type 2 diabetes. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 2 Latinos will develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime. When I heard that statistic I was left in awe. How is it that 43% of Latinos living in California have type 2 diabetes and 50% of them will develop it throughout their lifetime? I asked myself this question and discovered the answer as I emerged myself more and more into my internship.
As I got more involved with LCHC, I was able to learn about the social determinants of health and understand how they contribute to this alarming statistic. Latinos are at a disadvantage because many predominantly Latino communities do not have supermarkets with organic food and there are not enough safe parks to encourage physical activity. In addition, I also discovered there were almost twice as many soda advertisements in Spanish television channels compare to English television.
A lot of the work I have been doing with LCHC has been raising awareness of the type 2 diabetes epidemic in our state and in the Latino community. Since participating in outreach events I have noticed that many people do not know how unhealthy sugary beverages in reality are. Parents want the best for their children and would choose the best products if they knew the truth and had more information on the health impacts of the products they are marketed so aggressively. I do not blame them for not knowing all this information because who would question a label that is FDA approved that says made with 100% real fruit. Latinos are being misled to believe that sugary beverages have little to no sugar. A 16 oz. Coca Cola bottle has 16 teaspoons of sugar, SIXTEEN. The average adult should be only having a maximum of nine teaspoons a day. In comparison to soda, Capri Sun, a juice advertised to small children has four teaspoons of sugar in one pouch. The average child should be having five teaspoons A DAY. In my community, I see kids drinking two to three Capri Suns in one sitting.
When I look at the information that is at my disposal I can easily acknowledge two things: some people may not be aware of the severity of type 2 diabetes because they do not have the information at hand like I do; and secondly, the way resources and information are accessed in today’s society is the root problem contributing to the diabetes epidemic. Aside from Latinos, many other groups of people of color are strongly affected by type 2 diabetes. 39% of African Americans and Asian American, Pacific Islanders living in California have type 2 diabetes and 40.3% of American Indian and Alaskan Natives have it as well. Aside from race, more people living in low-income communities have higher rates of diabetes. Imperial County, which according to the US Census has an average household income of $41,772 a year, has a diabetes prevalence of 18%. In Imperial County Latinos make up 82.3% of their population. Now what does this mean? Considering 50% of Latinos will get diabetes throughout their lifetime, from those 82.3% Latinos living in Imperial, roughly 40% of them will be diagnosed with diabetes sometime in their lifetime. The social determinants that are contributing to these rates include food security, parks and recreational space, the natural environment, safe neighborhoods, and aggressive marketing of unhealthy products. Latinos and other people of color living in low-income areas are struggling to survive while large corporations are looking at them as the growing market to improve their bottom line.
Chronic disease is not good for California’s health, the human toll and economic burden should be incentive enough to open our community’s eyes to the truth. In California, we spend $37.1 billion on diabetes every year. Investing in prevention would be much cheaper than paying to manage an incurable disease such as type 2 diabetes. In the past years, LCHC has worked on the health impact fee policy or The Healthy California Fund, to raise revenue to invest in the root causes of type 2 diabetes, dental decay, and other chronic diseases. This policy would raise close to $3 billion through a tax on the companies that distribute sodas and sugary drinks. The revenue raised from this would help communities that are disproportionately impacted by chronic disease and have the highest cases of diabetes. It makes more sense to prevent a problem before it has occurred than to cure it or manage it during an entire lifetime. It also makes more sense for tax payers’ wallets.
I thank LCHC for opening my eyes and challenging me to understand the issues that impact people I love the most, my family. It if wasn’t for LCHC I would have not had the knowledge to share with my mom who drinks soda with every meal. I hope that we can continue to invest in our communities so that my mom and others have knowledge and healthier options in their communities. I am grateful to have acquired all this knowledge through this experience. I have gained some great skills working with LCHC as well as learned some valuable information regarding disease in Latinos and policy work. I cannot wait to get out into the world and put these skills and knowledge to use.