Bad Sugar

I actually did better on the Health Equity Quiz than I expected (4/10) as I was just guessing for most of the questions. Even though I was just guessing, I was truly shocked at some of the real answers. Some facts and statistics that stood out to me were that the group that has the best overall health in the U.S. is that made up of recent Latino immigrants, Black and Latino neighborhoods have only 1.7 acres of parks, and the life expectancy of people in the U.S. ranks just 29th in the world. I knew that many of the facts would be jarring, but I had no idea that there would be so much disparity between what I thought I knew and what is actually true.

The Unnatural Causes episode case study I chose for this post is Bad Sugar. The episode and the case study focus on the O’odham and Pima Native American tribes. Until the early 20th century these tribes were not prone to acquiring type 2 diabetes, but they see the disease in as much as 50% of their populations today. After the Coolidge Dam redirected water from the Gila River to other areas of the state the two tribes lost their ability to live off of the land and were forced to rely on government food subsidy programs. This not only took away a primary form of financial independence in farming, but also led the groups to exercise poor dieting practices. The stresses of living far below the poverty line and becoming used to eating poorly led to a staggering amount of incidences involving diabetes. This seems to offer a fairly direct correlation between the Gila River and the prevalence of diabetes in those areas.

Non-genetic factors that can help explain disease disparity among different groups of people are levels of economic living, access to good food choices, and the stresses caused by living poorly. Even if a group of people is not genetically likely to be prone to type 2 diabetes that group may still encounter the disease if their way of living is drastically changed. That is essentially what happened with the O’odham and the Pima. It seems that it would be irresponsible for lawmakers to make decisions on the development of land without considering the long-term effects on the people that live there.

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