By Najaf Ahmad, MPH, Communications Associate, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Human Capital Portfolio
Walking through Barnes & Noble recently, a book on the “New Arrivals” rack stopped me in my tracks. By now you may know about My Sugar Obsession. So despite being in a rush, I was immediately drawn to Sugar Nation.
Imagine reuniting with a father you haven’t seen in years, finding him in an unrecognizable condition—a “human body in the process of cannibalizing itself”—on death’s door with a missing limb. Author Jeff O’Connell begins with this moving story of how he learned that his estranged father was slowly dying from the ravages of type 2 diabetes.
Despite having learned of his father’s leg amputation weeks earlier, O’Connell—former editor-in-chief at Muscle & Fitness magazine and executive writer at Men’s Health magazine—was certain he had nothing to worry about. He worked out, was lean and appeared healthy. His thin physique didn’t fit the stereotype of someone predisposed to developing type 2 diabetes.
A sobering visit with his doctor shook O’Connell to his core. He was diagnosed with pre-diabetes and headed down the same path as his father. Rather than accepting this fate though, he embarked on a mission to fight back against the enemy lurking within him. In doing so, he unearthed crucial information on how lifestyle factors influence diabetes.
More interestingly, he discovered the troubling manner in which health care providers are (or are not) responding to this burgeoning problem, going so far as to say that many “seem clueless when it comes to diagnosing this disease, let alone treating it.”
Although genes play a prominent role in predisposing someone to type 2 diabetes, lifestyle is a major influence. O’Connell underscores how type 2 diabetes stems from “the sum total of a very long trail of personal choices, made over a lifetime.” We pay a heavy price for our love affair with sugar, as massive quantities from processed foods shock our bodies. It shouldn’t be surprising then that one in three adults in the United States now has a blood sugar abnormality that predisposes them to diabetes-related complications such as heart disease, kidney failure and blindness. Sadly, many do not know they are affected until they develop these complications.