San Francisco Bay Area resident Patrick Totty writes about his experiences living with type 2 diabetesSee all posts »
Will Type 2s be the New Gurus?
I set aside a few bucks each month and when the total reaches $80 or $100 send the money to an international non-profit organization called Heifer that offers relief to families in need by providing them with a long-term food source.
Twenty dollars buys a clutch of chicks for an African or South American family. With careful husbanding, those chicks can become a steady source of eggs, the occasional Sunday dinner, and always-in-demand offspring for sale at market.
The people who take possession of these chicks are mostly simple dirt farmers who live hard, often hand-to-mouth existences. It’s rare to find anyone among them who’s overweight or looks overfed.
They fit the image I grew up with of Third World people as thin, often gaunt, and always one failed crop away from starvation.
But no more. That image increasingly has been replaced by a radically different one, reflected in some disturbing statistics: The incidence of adult-onset type 2 diabetes is skyrocketing in India and China, places once routinely associated with hunger and malnutrition.
What happened? Western food preferences and the Green Revolution happened. Despite the dire warnings of 1970s doomsayers who predicted global mass starvation, the adoption of new farming methods and seed grains by Third World farmers in the 70s and 80s staved off famine and created surpluses that fueled increasing affluence.
With that affluence came a taste for western-style food consumption, including plentiful carbohydrates and processed items.
So here we are, 10,000 years after inventing agriculture, facing an undreamt of threat because of our own cleverness. Too much of a good thing—cheap and plentiful carbs—has led to an almost inconceivable scenario: Being overweight and prone to type 2 diabetes is now a sign of poverty, a poverty marked by an overabundance of food. We are a long way from our ancestors’ daily struggles to eat.
For cavemen, this would be absurd: Too much food is bad? What planet are we on?
Obviously, the planet we’re on is one where old truths have been turned upside down. In a strange way this makes us type 2s both the canaries in the coal mine and the ones who just might help the rest of humanity work its way past the bittersweet irony of having too much of a good thing.
We type 2s are experienced at dealing with the consequences of too much of the wrong types of food. Our choices and behaviors are very different from what they were before we were diagnosed. So we know things that many non-diabetics don’t. In a way, we’re like the ushers at a sporting event or Broadway show who know where to politely point people to their seats.
As the healthcare community seeks to augment the efforts of the too few people who are qualified diabetes educators, look for an increasing outreach to “civilians” like us who might be able to help with mentoring people with prediabetes.
Just as practical nurses cannot replace registered nurses or doctors, we won’t be the main folks plotting the strategy against diabetes. But we will be very helpful “boots on the ground” as the struggle ratchets up.