Increased rates of diabetes in youth and college students cause institutions to raise awareness for diabetes in nontraditional ways

By Daniel Weintraub and Catalina Mejia, Row 5

Dean Schillinger, a practicing physician and University of California San Francisco School of Medicine professor, spoke to a group of about 100 students and faculty members Wednesday afternoon discussing how poets are starting to use their art form to raise awareness of diabetes as a public health concern.

“Diabetes is what tobacco was to the 20th century,” Schillinger said. “It’s a 21st-century epidemic.”

Once one can see diabetes in its socioeconomic framework — tying together the lack of access to healthy foods, health care, education and wealth — Schillinger said it would change the way people “think and act.”

 Diabetes in minority students and youth has increased compared to 30 years ago.

Minority students who come from low-income families have a 30 to 40 percent chance of getting Type 2 diabetes, Schillinger said. About 50 percent of Latinos born after 2000 could receive a diagnosis, and more than 50 percent of blacks born after 2000 are expected to have the disease.

Overall, 13.2% of non-Hispanic blacks in America are diagnosed with diabetes, as well as 12.8% of Hispanics in America, according to the 2014 National Diabetes Statistics Report.

The report also reveals that 208,000 Americans under age 20 are estimated to have diagnosed diabetes, approximately 0.25% of that population. 

Support groups and campaigns raise awareness for the disease

Schillinger is devoted to fighting this epidemic. He contributes to The Bigger Picture, a public health campaign focused on raising awareness about Type 2 diabetes to youth in low-income communities.

“We are reframing the diabetes epidemic as a social problem for which young people are major players,” Schillinger said. “We engage young people to be vehicles for social and health justice [through poetry].”

The Bigger Picture works with Youth Speaks, a San Francisco-based poetry program which allows young people to use spoken-word poetry as a platform to promote social justice.

The program uses the poems in videos to reach large audiences.

In a clicker survey, results found that the number of students who thought diabetes could be caused by social and environmental factors jumped from 34 to 83 percent after the Youth Speaks session. At the same time, the number of students who “cared a lot” about Type 2 diabetes increased from 29 to 59 percent, he said.

“I thought [the lecture] was really powerful, seeing kids speak up and have such strong opinions about the macro causes of Type 2 diabetes,” senior family science major Melissa Greberman said.

Schillinger also discussed how people have a misconception of how and why diabetes is caused. In one study he cited, 12 percent of news pieces mentioned social and economic factors as possible causes of the disease.

“I definitely thought [diabetes] was more connected to genetics because that’s what you hear,” Greberman said. “Looking at it from a more social point of view and looking at how policies and accessibility to healthy food really affects it made it more frustrating, but made me want to do more about it because it can be prevented.”

Learn More About Diabetes

More facts about diabetes, as well as college students' ideas about the disease, are available online. You can also watch a CNN report about college students living with diabetes. 

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