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Killing me sweetly with diabetes

Junk Food

Photo: digitalart

I live in the fattest part of the country.

No really, a Gallup poll recently declared the Rio Grande Valley (Texas) as the most obese Metropolitan area in the United States of America, with nearly 40 percent of its residents classified as obese.

You’ve probably heard and read plenty about the obesity epidemic in the United States, the country where even the majority of household pets are overweight. You probably also know that obesity leads to high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, and even a lighter wallet.

But, hopefully you are also aware that obesity, even moderate obesity, dramatically increases the risk of type II diabetes. If this alone isn’t enough to sound an alarm in your head, consider that Latinos are 1.6 times more likely to die of diabetes than non-Hispanic whites.

Diabetes is often broken up into two types: type I and type II. Type I diabetes can occur at any age, but it most often gets diagnosed in children, adolescents, and young adults. It is estimated that type I diabetes accounts for 10-15 percent of diabetes cases.

Type II diabetes is the much more common form of diabetes. However, unlike type I diabetes, type II diabetes is preventable. Although family history and genes play a significant role in developing diabetes, low activity level, poor diet, and excess weight around the waist also increase the risk.

If not treated properly, diabetes can lead to a bevy of health issues, including but not limited to:

  • Eye problems which could lead to blindness
  • Foot and skin infections that could lead to amputation of a foot or leg
  • Heart disease
  • Nerve damage
  • Kidney problems

Aside from knowing the symptoms of both types of diabetes (which may often go undiagnosed), you should visit your health care provider for regular screenings.

Unfortunately, it’s not hard to see why Latinos are at such a high risk of developing diabetes. High poverty levels, lack of access to health care, and even just a general lack of education on the disease all play a role. (The last two links show a disturbing relationship: one in four Latinos lives below the poverty level…and one in four Latinos lacks a usual health care provider).

And of course, there’s the food. Barbacoa, carne guisada, menudo, and greasy tacos are all staples of the South Texas diet (and are also readily available at the corner gas station). Think of some of your favorite comida típica, and chances are they may be UNhealthy food options.

Not too much longer after I read about my hometown’s obesity problem, I read that 25 percent of people in the Rio Grande Valley are diabetic. Unfortunately, I wasn’t shocked (by comparison, 11.8 percent of Latinos and 8.3 percent of the U.S. population are currently diagnosed as such).

You may dismiss this as just another piece on Latinos and diabetes, and that’s fine. But, a little reminder on a serious problem affecting our community couldn’t hurt. In fact, it could (hopefully) change a life (or lives) for the better.


About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


  1. I also grew up on the border. I probably had been diabetic since 3rd grade but was not officially diagnosed until I was 25. I moved to NY and Tacoma where I changed my diet and lost 100+ pounds. I’m still struggling with it and regret that I was not more active in my youth. This article hit a nerve with me.

  2. Being Latino are you just covering Latino of Mexican culture? Also in your article you compared Hispanic to non- Hispanic whites I am confused by that. On the subject if diabetes, one of the big problems is eating the food that US producted by greedy companies. Mist of the foods in the US are over processed & they add sugar to it. Plus if your are a Latino who’s culture eats corn tortillas la masa. Is OVER processed. In Mexico la tortilla made straight from the corn fresh, here in the state, we buy then already made and they are made from corn flour or masa, but its processed, this plus the over processed of all foods (meaning they add chemicals/ sugar/take away the fiber) is what make Latino subject to diabetes.

  3. Good informative piece. I would add that while our ancestors ate fatty and an high calorie foods, these were whole/real foods. The additives were minimal and the calories were utilized, nutrients intact. In modern society, the majority of Latinos, as other Americans, fall victim to quick and easy meals. A large part because both parents are working to feed their families or their incomes are stretched best (in their view) by “beige foods” that a stripped of nutrients and full of processed sugars. Foods that the FDA deems safe, while demonizing raw foods. Do your own homework and listen to your ancestors.

  4. C. Rubio says:

    Thanks you all for the comments. As for your questions Sicilian, I simply gave a topic that we’ve previously covered at BL (although a very important one) a personal touch. Mine just happens to be this pocket of the larger Latino community. Either way, the reality remains that diabetes is a serious reality in our community (for reasons that you and others have mentioned), and hopefully all who read it came away a little bit more informed. As to the non-Hispanic white, I’m not a fan of it, was just using the language used by the CDC. I guess I didn’t have to quote it exactly. In the end, I think we can learn a lot from a community in which 1 in 4 people are diabetic, and given our love affair with terrible food (and I’m guilty too) other places in the country could also be headed there.

  5. Ruby Garcia says:

    OMG! So glad you wrote about this. Definitely considering becoming a Diabetic counselor after covering this topic in Medical Nutrition Therapy. Unfortunately most prevelant is the lack of adequate nutritional education in the valley. If the upcoming generations don’t learn how to consume the proper nutrients the problem is only going to get worse. There are kids as young as 16 being diagnosed with type II diabetes which in the past was seen in people above the age of 30. However its not too late, once diagnosed with diabetes it is possible for it to be reversed with adequate nutrition and exercise; one could even become independent of insulin injections if the proper steps are taken. This is a topic I’m definitely very passionate about! I think its absolutely great your using your platform to raise awareness :)) My goal for my next extended visit is helping my mother manage her hypertension and get off medication by helping her make better choices.

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