As a middle-age woman, I decided to go back to school and become a nurse because I wanted to help improve the health of those around me. While attending college, the responsibilities of work and school greatly increased. I found myself with less free time to cook healthy, homemade meals and less time to do physical activities with my children. After graduation, I found that my family and I were heavier and our overall health had declined. I was not only concerned, but I also felt embarrassed that I had not done anything to prevent it. As a nurse and a mother, I feel obligated to teach about the prevention of diabetes and search for resources in my community to help not only my family, but also others in my community, live healthier, more active lives.
One in ten adults has diabetes type 2. In the United States, the number of cases of diabetes has increased significantly in the last few years, especially in children. Through my research and experience as a nurse, I have realized that specific ethnic groups and families with lower incomes are affected the most. Lack of exercise is one of the main reasons for the increase in the number of cases of diabetes. These low income-communities do not have the resources necessary to keep families active and to prevent diseases.
Diabetes is the root of many chronic diseases: renal, hepatic, cardiac, and gastro-intestinal diseases, as well as amputations and other metabolic complications. Many of these medical conditions could be prevented by providing resources in the community, teaching children about healthy foods choices, and promoting the physical activity.
I volunteer for the local fire department and I have learned that members of low-income communities lack access to proper preventive health care. These deprived populations are bombarded with cheap junk foods that are sold in restaurants, food stores, convenience stores, and even in auto-parts stores. These communities do not have access to grocery stores that many of us take for granted, offering healthier meal options that include grains, lean meats, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Another factor affecting these communities is the lack of affordable child care programs. Most of the parents work long hours and children are left home alone. Kids spend long hours watching television, playing video games or using the computer, and eating only accessible junk food without the option of eating healthy, homemade meals. These home situations are not only unsafe, but also increase their risk for diabetes and obesity.
Communities like these need safe environments, parks, and recreational facilities for children to play. They also need school programs that offer exercise and opportunities for social interaction. It has been proven that an increase in healthy food environments and opportunities for physical activities are associated with a lower number of cases of obesity and diabetes. Scientists from Harvard University have discovered that when a person exercises, our muscles release natural substances that help relax blood vessels, lower blood pressure, reduce bad cholesterol (LDL), lower glucose levels in the blood, lower insulin levels, and reduce inflammation. All of these functions protect against heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and even some types of cancer.
To promote healthier lifestyles, more awareness is needed, as well as educational interventions with community-based approaches. I feel fortunate to have received my education and live modestly. I would like for other families to be able to do the same – to go to college or afford to send their kids to college, to own their homes, and live in a supportive community, which provides resources to advance economically, academically, and where their children can grow safe and healthy. There is so much that could be done, but for now I will begin by preparing healthy meals for my loved ones, by teaching family and friends about diabetes prevention, and by spending more time playing and exercising with my children. I have realized that I enjoy walking with my daughter. We like to go shopping together and we talk about healthy options. We also do games at home to see if she can combine different ingredients to create a well-balanced meal and proper size portions. All of these are factors have helped me help my family prevent obesity, diabetes and other diseases.
“To promote healthier lifestyles, more awareness is needed.”TWEET THIS
There are several good resources for exercise from the American Diabetes Association about local events in the community and across the country. The name of one of the programs is “Step Out. Walk to Stop Diabetes,” a great way to learn more and stay healthy.
Hospitals also provide several resources and opportunities for healthy lifestyles. For example, in my community, Banner Health Hospital provides resources for families to stay active through their program “Go Kids!”.
And nationally, first lady, Michelle Obama created the “Let’s Move Program,” which provides information and resources to help lower or prevent obesity by teaching individuals and families to make healthier eating choices and staying physically active. I seriously believe that if communities do not provide resources for their families, activities for children, and safe living environments, these communities will never improve.
I will not give up on my children, on my family, on my community, nor on my own health. Together we can all make the difference.
Photos by Jesus (Susy) U-Salcido RN BSN