“Bad Sugar”

I did not do very well on the Health equity quiz, I answered only two out of ten correctly. The most surprising statistics, I thought, was the fact that we are ranked 29th in the world in terms of overall health yet we spend more than twice as much money on healthcare per person.

The case study that I watched covered the rise in type II diabetes among impoverished populations, particularly on the reservations of the Tohono and the Pima in Arizona. Type II diabetes is when the body does not use its insulin efficiently, causing buildups of sugar in the blood that can block blood vessels and lead to blindness or kidney failure. In the last two years, the Tohono tribe suffered the highest rate of type 2 diabetes in the world. Half of the adults have type II diabetes, which is more than seven times the national average, and rates for children are rapidly climbing. The ancient Tohono people used to live off the land around them and they were healthy, but that is not the case today. The Pima, whose reservation was farther north than the Tohono people, lived very similarly to their southern neighbors. They used the nearby river to transform the desert into farmland. They, too, were healthy. However, within two generations, the Pima began dying of type II diabetes. Experts originally believed this was an anomaly, but as rates of type II diabetes among the Pima continued to rise, they turned to genetics as a possible cause. Yet, the only common denominator in these affected populations seemed to be their living conditions. High stress hormones release more sugar into the body and increase blood sugar levels that can lead to diabetes. So, the stress of living in poor conditions, in poverty, could be the cause of the outbreaks of type II diabetes in these populations.

Also, during the time of Calvin Coolidge, dams were built to control water supply. Much of the water went to wealthy Caucasians, so eventually the river near the Pima population ran dry. Since their culture and way of life was centered on that river, many of the people died of starvation. The Pimas were then on the bottom of the economic scale and had to take commodities from the government to survive, which were very fatty and only contributed to their risk for type II diabetes. In the 30 years since the Coolidge dam was built, the reported cases of type II diabetes in the Pima population jumped from one to over 500. Only in relatively recent years have the Pima gained back their water rights, but now the unhealthy lifestyles they led when living off government commodities are a part of their culture. As described in the video, it seems that only hope and determination can delay death by diabetes anymore.

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