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How One Community Is Tackling The Diabetes Gap In Its Backyard

For 10 years, Chicago's South Side Diabetes Project has worked to help close the gap in how diabetes affects black people compared to other groups.
Posted at 12:24 PM, Nov 08, 2018

Diabetes is one of the top 10 causes of death for Americans. Left unchecked, it can lead to heart attacks and kidney failure. 

Steve Crooks was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 2002.

Crooks said: "It's a scary thing. It really, truly is scary."

Adult onset diabetes, or Type 2, is almost twice as common in blacks than non-Hispanic whites. And that presents a gap — one that Chicago's South Side Diabetes project aims to close.

Dr. Monica Peek said: "We hear diabetes and think it's a death sentence. One of my messages is of hope — that you can be told that you have diabetes, but it doesn't mean that life is going to end." 

Beyond the hospital walls, primary care physician Dr. Monica Peek co-leads Chicago's South Side Diabetes Project. In its tenth year, its goal is to reduce the health gap by incorporating community outreach.

One strategy includes a nutritional tour at the local farmer's market on Saturdays, where participants walk away with a $10 gift certificate. 

"I feel like I'm giving back the knowledge that was given to me when I took the classes. It helps me be accountable ... for the things I know I'm not supposed to be doing," Angela Fullilove said. 

Angela Fullilove was diagnosed with diabetes a few years ago. Once a participant in the South Side Diabetes Project, she's now been a volunteer for four years.

The project also partners with six clinics, grocery stores and a food pantry with a focus on education, access and community. And according to Peek, participants have seen improvements like a decrease in blood sugar levels and glucose control.

Why are more African-Americans at risk? There are a lot of factors. Peek says genetics play a part, and so do structural inequities or structural racism. A few examples: the lack of access to healthy food and health care services and poverty. And even though the South Side is resource-limited, Peek wants to change that narrative.

"The most effective lever that we have for change is love. It's free. Certainly technology helps. ... Careful planning. ... But when we ask people why they keep coming back to our classes, to the activities, to whatever, it's feeling cared for," Peek said.