BY DEBORAH CHARNES
VP, Director of Public Relations, Bromley Communications

To most people, I’m a health food nut. I buy almost all my food and meals at Whole Foods or Sun Harvest, and have shopped at health food stores since my college days. I’ve been vegetarian for nearly 40 years, and have never added sugar or salt to anything. Eating flour tortillas and white bread are as appealing to me as chewing on a wad of cotton. Although I owned a tapas bar in South America, I pretty much stopped drinking alcohol (and soda) before I even reached today’s legal drinking age.

For those frequent solo business trips, rather than a fancy local restaurant, I prefer to buy my meals at Whole Foods. Their locations in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City are programmed in my brain, just like the birds that fly south but always return home to nest. On my last work trip, knowing there would be no access to Whole Foods, I travelled with “Green” bars made from dates, almonds, spirulina, quinoa and soy.

I attribute my dietary practices, or preferences, to the fact that I grew up in a diabetic household. All the breads and cookies baked at home were made with whole grains and were sweetened with crushed pineapple or bananas. Our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were made with 100 percent freshly ground peanuts and topped with 100 percent fruit spreads. My mother was a very educated diabetic whose article on her switching to insulin was published in the Diabetes Educatorin 1979.

Additionally, for the last 15 years, I have periodically conducted health education PR, much of which focused on diabetes namely the prevalence of this disease within the Hispanic community. In addition to having worked for multiple pharmaceutical companies on diabetes outreach over the years, we have spearheaded many wellness campaigns for clients ranging from the San Antonio Metro Health Department to LULAC – where diabetes is always top of mind. Finally, representing several food clients, we often highlight nutritional aspects. Having crafted dietary message points and traveled with nutritionist spokespeople, I felt I was educated, just like my mom was about the “silent killer.”

Yet, despite my mother’s conscientious monitoring of her blood sugar levels and her diet, diabetes killed her. This woman, who seemed to attend all the diabetes workshops available in my hometown, had a pain in her toe. She never went to the doctor for a diagnosis or treatment, who may have told her she had painful diabetic peripheral neuropathy, which now can be treated with oral meds. So, as is often the case with diabetics, gangrene set in. First a toe amputation. Then the leg. Then death. All within a week or so.

Just like my mother, I thought I knew everything and was sure I’d avoid its grasps. I get the fasting blood sugar test yearly, practice yoga and meditation daily (stress greatly elevates glucose levels) and I even recently moved toward a vegan diet, aware that in a closely monitored trial, those who were on a three-month low fat vegan diet had 59 percent lower glucose levels than those who followed the ADA recommended diet.

Knowing I was at risk I asked my doctor for the A1C blood test, rather than traditional fasting blood sugar. A1C monitors glucose levels over the prior three months and can be used to detect pre-diabetes which is not uncommon, but is extremely under diagnosed. So it was a shock when the doctor’s office said my A1C levels were above normal, labeling me pre-diabetic. I became one of the 57 million Americans that the American Diabetes Association, in 2007, estimated were pre-diabetic. I’m lucky. I know. Most don’t. And it was a fellow health specialist PR person who insisted I get the A1C test. Thanks, Henry.

There is no escape from your genetic makeup, but today’s diabetes research and development has advanced to the degree we can now detect diabetes before it causes harm, and we can arm ourselves to stop it in its tracks, or at least create an obstacle course to slow it down. I consider if I hadn’t had the lifestyle I was following, I would certainly be on insulin, just as my mother was at my age. Now, I have good reason to believe I can keep my sugar levels from rising by stepping up my diet and exercise even more.

Hispanics are twice as likely to have diabetes as non-Hispanic whites, partially due to cultural associations with foods, beverages, and mealtimes. Despite stats that say Hispanic female heads of households are more conscientious about calories and nutrition than non-Hispanics, the majority are in total disregard, drinking supersized margaritas, beers, turkey legs or fritanga and topping it off with tres leches. As a result, obesity is rampant in the Hispanic community, and Type 2 diabetes is hitting children like never before.

As PR practitioners, we have to be responsible to our clients and our community. We must offset our brand messaging with ones on healthy lifestyles and a balanced diet. It can be done. When my agency managed a campaign for a major brand of ice cream, we advised the client that our spokesperson needed to promote the “no sugar added” varieties and showcase healthy menu options and portion control in all touchpoints.

This year, the American Diabetes Association is asking: How will you Stop Diabetes® ? The future is in your hands.
Public relations professionals are like artists. We can make a difference through our work. We can make some noise to fight this silent killer.