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?

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

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soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. Travis Blaze

    I am a 26 year old white male that has had Type 1 diabetes for 24 years. I would really appreciate it if distinctions are drawn between the two types of diabetes. Family history is the only real predictor of type 1. I don't like reading these sad stories about how overweight people get diabetes. It creates a perception that people with diabetes can all just live healthier and be fixed. Unfortunately, for people like me, there is no such resolution. I have taken multiple injections daily for the last 24 years and have lived healthy because I want to be healthy.

    If you want to lessen the impact on minorities, change the disparities in socioeconomic status through policies and education. How can someone eat healthy if they have no money to buy healthy food? You can eat at McDonald's for 3 dollars, but it takes 7 or 8 to eat healthy at subway. It's just a matter of mathematics.

    July 4, 2008 at 19:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. shila,from Moshi.

    people may be genetically susceptible to the disease,but i think other factors like environment can have a role at play,The social life ,food habits of all groups should be researched,who knows can shed light on factors at play.

    July 5, 2008 at 10:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Derek

    I do not think there is any one factor as to why minorities are diagnosed with more obesity related diseases than white Americans. There are family, economic and social issues that can contribute to this, and not really one standing out over the other. I do think that it still is the parents that need to educate and practice the acts of eating right and physical fitness. Studies have shown time and again that influences at home are the most powerful to children under the age of 13. Even in later life, kids copy-cat what the parents do. If your parents are more likely to be couch potatoes, then there is a huge chance you will be one too. But there does come a point when one must make personal decisions with their own life and can't lay the blame on anyone else but themselves.

    July 5, 2008 at 16:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Janvier

    I think we already know why diabetes rates are going up so quickly. In America, we have an incredibly large food industry. We have the burden of many choices for what we can eat. Many of those choices happen to be very poor for us. Chips, candies, cookies, you name it, are loaded with preservatives and sweeteners such as dextrose and high fructose corn syrup. I'm sure at least a few of these ingredients are playing a part in depleting the health of our nation, causing many ailments--particularily diabetes.
    While many of us can grab a bag of apples at our local store and ignore the snack-food aisle, some are not so lucky. Minorities in particular have a harder time obtaining decent foods, due to the higher levels of poverty among them. They are left with no choice but to purchase the less-than-healthy items that can lead to health problems.
    I'm basically just repeating what many health experts have already confirmed. I've seen so many articles about this issue, I'm scared out of my mind and avoid foods with certain preservatives-particularily high fructose corn syrup.

    July 6, 2008 at 13:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Judy Macintosh

    With the increase in Diabetes, and in turn the articles, commentaries, i would like to see more of the identification in those articles as to what type. Type 1 vs Type 2. I understand the emphasis on Type 2 and it's increase due to weight. BUT, and this is a big but, i have a child with Type 1, and there is nothing he can do about it. No cure, it is not a result of diet, or anything he has done (he is actually at a normal weight). but I get concerned about the stereotype that is out there with the word "diabetes". Education is the only thing that will keep people informed, and knowledgeable, and one way to do this is by identifying in the articles what type of diabetes they are referring to.

    July 6, 2008 at 13:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Amrita

    Although I'm no authority on this issue, diabetes has always interested me. The causes for the increase in diabetes is multi-faceted. First, the increase in saturated fats: fast food is easier to buy and cheaper to cook than it is to cook meals at home. Not many people bring lunches from home anymore and instead are lured to fast-food chains. Then, there's the sedentary lifestyle: promoted by the increasing number of tv channels and lack of stress on physical education in schools. Then, there is also the issue of preventive care among minorities. According to Janovach 2004 (see: http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1474825) , many minority groups don't place priority in their health.

    So really, it comes down to our lifestyle. We have to start focusing on teaching the future generation of how to take care of themselves. We can teach people to cook healthful meals at home. And families should participate in physical activities more often, instead of watching tv. The increase in cases of diabetes, in my opinion, is caused by a lifestyle change and the only way to lower this is by a change in lifestyle once again. And lastly, every child should know that it's okay to go to the doctor just like Imani did.

    July 6, 2008 at 18:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. jennifer

    As a type 1 diabetic I find it irritating that cnn continuously neglects to differentiate between type 1, an autoimmune disease, and type 2 diabetes in every story

    Be specific about which type of diabetes these articles refer to

    July 6, 2008 at 20:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. LeiLanie Snell

    I haave seen sooooooo many children& teens, not 2 mention their parents.We have become a gluttonous people. Withall the ALL U CAN EAT BUFFEES& the THOUSANDS of peoplple who fkock 2 them,I am amazed at the OBBESITY I C ALL over the USA. People sould take control over their food habits their childres!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If 4 breakfast a boul of OATMEAL.add RAISINS & a lttle BROWN SUGAR &BANANNA or an APPLE&a nofat MILK & a small of orange, I have eaten a well BALENCED diet 4 breakastor a bowlof RAISIN BRAND,PLUS 4 pitted prones,& a BABNNA ,NO FAT MILD & a 8oc glass of OGRANGE JUICE& i hv eatenen aBALANCED DIT> Watch your portion O The same goes 4 lunch. so 4 lunch & DINNER, grilled or baked. ! lean meat or ! ! baked Brown Rice,Green beans cooked i 99% chicken,no fat milk & an apple.watch your portions. 1piece of chiken 1small portion of veg. & eicDINER 1PEACE OF LEAN METbround RICE ,STEAMED BROCCALY & PICKELD BEETS.LOW fat fat milk & aporsion of grapes BALANCED MEAL

    July 7, 2008 at 00:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Cognizant

    Nutrition education is woefully absent in the minds of many parents who buy the cheapest, most preservative dense, nutrient absent and convenient food sold at the store. Their kids then subsequently eat whatever garbage is put in front of them. Our society is drowning in nutrient-drained white flour(enriched wheat flour) and sugar. As if the dietary dimension is not enough, couple it with the declining levels of activities among youngsters and you have a bunch of porky kids populating the younger demographics.
    It is lamentable that so many youngsters have to 'recover' their health because their parents did not get them started on the right track in the first place. This very article is a good example. Clearly this poor child was overweight (she lost 50 pounds) and her parents even refused to believe the reality that she could be a diabetic?
    We're in trouble folks.

    July 7, 2008 at 07:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Clinton Cooper

    It is disappointing that this article did not mention the type of diabetes that Ms. Lesane was diagnosed with. Was it Type 1 or Type 2? There is such a vast difference from Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. The majority of hte public has no clue what the difference is between these two types. Type 1 is not caused by any unhealthy eating or dietary habits. It is an autoimmune disease. This is very irresponsible article for not clarifying the details on diabetes.

    Clinton Cooper
    Louisville, KY
    Type 1 Diabetic

    July 7, 2008 at 11:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Ms. NJ

    I agree, it doesn't say if this person was a Type I or Type II diabetic. It's wonderful for those who are TYPE II who can read these articles and see that proper nutrition and exercise can lead to a better way of life for those who have TYPE II diabetes. TYPE I is an autoimmune disease, a hereditary autoimmune disease. People constantly say to me, "You have diabetes, you're not overweight..." It would be great to see an article or two about those of us with TYPE I, who live with insulin pumps, constant monitoring and the breaktrhoughs being made for people like us. I do commend those with TYPE II who find the healthier road, but I'd like to see an enlightening story about a person who has to manage this for life. Or what about the children who learn at an early age how to manage TYPE I diabetes, playing sports and managing to keep healthy? Now that would be something I'd love to read about. I'd just like to know that people don't perceive all types of diabetes as something you get from being overweight.

    July 7, 2008 at 16:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. C Anne

    Even within the diebetic community, there is still some misinformation.
    Not all Type I diabetics have the disease as a result of genetics or heredity. I developed Type 1 18 years ago (this week, in fact!), and I have no genetic predispositions within my family, nor anyone in my family with the disease, for at least the six generations I can referrence quickly. The best diagnosis the medical team could speculate was my pancreas's negative reaction to multiple medications I was prescribed at a time when I had mononuceosis and strep throat similtaneously, which, by the way, included multiple pescriptions for antibiotics. But then again, even this guess was not conclusive, but merely speculation.
    The disease is too complicated to be easily pigeon-holed into a simple explanation. While sound bites like this article are helpful in raising awareness, it would serve the public better if it were balanced and more detailed.

    July 8, 2008 at 15:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Elizabeth Morron

    I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when I was 5 years old. Later this year, I will mark my 30th anniversary with diabetes. Unlike mose cases, there is no diabetes in my family. I am currently overweight, but wasn't when I was younger, mainly because I had trouble with low blood sugar when I was growing up.

    There is definately a difference between the two diseases. I have often been upset by all the breakthroughs for Type 2 diabetes, but rarely are there any answers for those of us with Type 1. We've been forgotten – by society and researchers.

    In spite of that fact, advances in research and technology have helped us all! I remember testing my sugar levels with urine – blood tests were only done in hospitals. When I was 10, my parents bought my first meter, and it cost $600 (insurance didn't cover it). Now we also have insuin pumps to help control our sugars. Because of these things, we can live a normal life. I have two children of my own, and have lived 30 years. When I was diagnosed in 1978, most people didn't know what diabetes was, and people with diabetes were not expected to live very long, much less have their own children.

    As diabetics, we just have to thank our lucky stars that there is something to treat the disease. We don't have to like the fact that people think of us as overweight, or only know about type 2. That opens the door for us to be the teachers!

    July 8, 2008 at 18:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Jennifer

    Type 1 is not preventable, so therefore it gets no press. I don't think most people want/need to hear about something that is like getting struck by lightning. It just doesn't happen to most people out there. Type 2 is an epidemic, can be prevented, etc. I've had type 1 since I was 12 yr old. I will have it 30 years in August, and I'm complication-free. It's not been easy. It doesn't run in my family. Autoimmune means your body attacks you. My body did so when I got a bad case of the flu. Most people recover with no lasting issues. My flu trashed my pancreas.
    Everyone has the power to choose to be healthy. I choose healthy every single day. I want an advocate to draw attention to type 1. We need someone like Lance Armstrong to do for us what he's done for cancer.

    July 8, 2008 at 21:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Kyttyn Naef

    I am an example of genetically connected diabetes: both of my maternal grandparents and my mother all have it, and so do I now, at seventeen. I only have a very mild form of type-two, so all I have to do is regulate my diet, and I can honestly say, I don't miss sugar. I don't honestly think the types of sugar in the American diet today are healthy for anyone...

    July 9, 2008 at 15:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Lauren M. Jenkins

    Dr. Gupta, I think it would very helpful if you would point out the differences between Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease (formerly known as juvenile onset, but can emerge at any age) and Type 2 diabetes, a far more common condition (formerly known as adult onset, but also can appear in people of any age).

    Type 2 is far more common, representing 90% of all diabetes cases. Type 2 is sometimes controlled by diet alone, or with oral medications and sometimes insulin.

    People with Type 1 use insulin daily, and will until there is a cure.

    My son, Aidan, was diagnosed with Type 1 when he was 23 months. He is now 6 years old. He has been using an insulin pump for 4 years, and will begin using the newest technology, a Continuous Glucose Monitoring System, later this year.

    July 11, 2008 at 07:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. ReeDee

    I've read that one of the reasons for the high rate of type 2 diabetes in minorities is that we are not quite far enough away from our ancestors who were plains nomads, farmers, etc. A seditary lifestyle and overprocessed foods when we are just 3 or 4 generations from a lifestyle of gleaning, pulling a plow or walking great distances daily. We've gone from chasing down our food, eating greens, fruits and vegtables that were growing wild to a drive to the local grocery. From grinding our own wheat and corn to silky white bread... Not only does the sedatary lifestyle and processed foods lead to obesity... it leads to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. I've been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, and it's my own fault. I've seen it coming for years. I have a daughter who at 30 had the gastric bypass to eliminate type 2 diabetes. It worked but just a little too drastic for me. With diet and exercise I have lost weight and have the sugars under control for the time being... but it could have been avoided. Most of the time, type 2 can be avoided.

    July 11, 2008 at 15:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. JN

    I wish that the article clearly stated that this child is a type 2 diabetic.

    Although I have sympathy for the girl and the stress and worry that type 2 diabetes has added to her life, I think you are doing a disservice to the public in not mentioning what form of diabetes she has. This is especially hard for all of us type 1 diabetics, and the parents of children with type 1 diabetes who want the world to know that this what is described in the article is not the disease we have, and no matter how hard we work, we will never be free of this disease. If type 2 diabetics worked as hard at exercising and eating well as type 1 diabetics are required to do, they wouldn't have type 2 diabetes anymore.

    July 15, 2008 at 14:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. LK

    All of these comments are correct–there are differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes and there are other types of diabetes such as gestational diabetes. While the rates and the numbers continue to increase according to the CDC (there are over one million people with type 1 diabetes and another 23 million with type 2 diabetes), there is one thing everyone should know about diabetes: You can live a full-life with diabetes, no matter if it's type 1 or 2.

    July 23, 2008 at 14:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. sasha grimm

    hi i am a 15 year old girl and i have had diabetes for 5 years in december 2009. i was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 10 years old on the date of december 2004. i dont remember the exact date but i remember the month and year very clearly. my mom decided to take me to the docters because i was drinking all the time, getting up 5 or 6 times a night tto use the restroom, and i was eating all the time. but even though i was eating all the time i was still losing weight. my mom went to bring me a towel after my bath one day and saw how skinny i was...i was so skinny that you could take one look at me and see my rib cage. so she rushed me to the doctor and took blood tests and stuff. the docter came back to the room and told my mom to take me to the hospital right away because my bloodsugar was above 500. i remember my moms tears and how scared i was...i remember going for 2 years not being able to take my shots by myself, and i remember at one point telling my mom that i wished i was dead instead of living a life full of shots and illnesses...i made my mom cry that day. diabetes is scary...but i think after 5 years i finally understand how to live my life with this sickness.

    April 24, 2009 at 12:35 | Report abuse | Reply
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    October 25, 2010 at 04:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Francesca Webb

    there are many social issues these days and we have different solutions for different social problems "*`

    December 22, 2010 at 15:14 | Report abuse | Reply
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