July 4th, 2008
11:34 AM ET

Young life with diabetes

By Jennifer Pifer
CNN Medical Senior Producer

Imani Lesane is one smart cookie. Three years ago, when she was 13, Imani started feeling yucky.  She was thirsty all the time and just didn't feel like herself.  So she started doing a little medical sleuthing on line and figured out what was wrong: She had diabetes.  When Imani told her family, they thought she was crazy. "Old people get diabetes," her mom said.

But Imani was persistent as 13-year-olds are apt to be and persuaded her mom to take her to the doctor.  Turned out, Imani's self-diagnosis was right on: She did have diabetes.  But instead of feeling sorry for herself, Imani took action. She lost 50 pounds and got serious about exercising.  It's not always easy.  Imani injects herself with insulin four times a day.  And if people are eating candy, says Imani, "Oh my goodness ... I have to go to another room."

I thought of Imani the other day while reading a new Centers for Disease Control report on diabetes in America (link to report).  The news isn't good: The number of people living with diabetes has gone up 15 percent in two years.  That comes to about 24 million Americans or about 8 percent of the population.  The news is especially bad for minorities: More than 16 percent of Native Americans, 12 percent of African Americans and 10 percent of Hispanics suffer from the disease. 

So what's going on?  "It is multi-faceted," says Dr. Ann Albright at CDC.  Obesity is a huge part of the equation, for some people it's genetics and for others it has to do with what Albright calls 'the social determinants of health."  For example, if you live in a neighborhood where it's hard to find affordable fresh fruits and vegetables at the local store, it's difficult to make healthy food choices.  And of course, personal choice also plays a role.  "It's hard," says Imani with a sigh.  She has to watch her diet and keeps active.  Dancing is her passion.  The excitement of making her own diagnosis has her thinking about going to medical school.  Her advice to her fellow diabetics: "don't give up."  I have a feeling Imani never will. 

I'd love to hear what you think: why do you think the diabetes rate is going up so quickly? And why do you think it is hitting minorities particularly hard?

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