March 10 2016

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Something is seriously wrong when more than half of all California’s adults have either diabetes or prediabetes.

Working with UCLA’s Center for Health Policy Research, we’ve taken a deeper look at the diabetes epidemic by peeling back a layer to understand the prevalence of prediabetes, a precursor to full-blown diabetes – and the picture is gloomy! Nearly half of all California adults are estimated to have prediabetes. And even among young adults (18-39), a full third are prediabetic. This generation is in jeopardy.

I started working to turn around the childhood obesity epidemic almost 20 years ago.  Kids starting kindergarten in 1990 would now be 30 years old.  These are now young adults who lived their whole lives in communities inundated by soda and fast food, told by the likes of Michael Jackson that “Pepsi is the choice of the new generation” or Beyonce to “Live for Today,” with little if any access to healthy food and safe places to play.

In many of these low-income communities hardest hit by type-2 diabetes there are no grocery stores, only liquor/deli marts. It’s easier to find a 20-ounce soda and a bag of flaming hot Cheetos than it is to find an affordable bottle of water and an apple. That’s just plain wrong. I can walk a block and a half in my neighborhood and easily get an affordable bottle of water and an apple. It’s not fair that these low-income communities cannot do the same.

We’ve engineered a world where diabetes is the natural consequence.  And we are seeing the results.

This diabetes epidemic – and the community conditions and corporate practices that cause it — are fundamental health equity issues. They are fundamental issues of social justice.

If you live below the poverty line, you are five times more likely to have diabetes than someone in the middle class.  If you are Black or Hispanic, your children have a 50-50 chance of getting diabetes sometime in their lives.  This must stop!

MCDiabetesAnd we know exactly what to do about it. California wrote the book on combatting big public problems. In 1988, our Golden State led the world with our tobacco control efforts.  We passed a 25 cent tobacco tax (Proposition 99) and embarked on one of the most successful public health campaigns in modern history.  In just 10 years, smoking rates were down 27% and lung cancer deaths were down 19%.  What did we do?  We used the our creativity and our collective capacities to develop hard hitting anti-tobacco ads, educate kids about cigarettes, support community organizations to get city councils to pass smoking ordinances, and make smoking cessation programs available to everyone who wanted them.  Smoking went from being “cool,” to being “gross” in no time.

It is time we do the same thing for diabetes prevention.  The State of California spends less money on diabetes prevention of any state in the nation.  That has to change.  Here’s a starting menu.  You may have ideas to add to it.

  • Start with a $20 million state funded diabetes prevention campaign.
  • Require health insurance programs – public and private – to pay for diabetes prevention programs. (Can you believe that Medi-Cal doesn’t reimburse for diabetes prevention programs for people who already have prediabetes?!)
  • Tax sugary beverages to raise $1 billion or more for a Prop 99 type prevention program, with the money allocated to communities proportional to their diabetes and prediabetes rates.

With half of California adults now having diabetes or prediabetes, including a third of young adults, California is in trouble.  So let’s do what we do when we are at our best.  Let’s come together and make California once again a model for the world.  Let’s turn around this epidemic by making the health of Californians – of ALL Californians – our top priority.

Click here to access the report Prediabetes: A Generation in Jeopardy

Click here to learn about or register for the conference “Prediabetes Epidemic in California, Now What?”

Click here to learn about what the California Endowment is doing to reduce the consumption of sugar-sweetened junk drinks and increase consumption of water.

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