Type 2 diabetes affects African-Americans at nearly twice the rate of non-Hispanic whites, and health experts don’t know all the reasons why, says Robert Gabbay, MD, PhD, chief medical officer of Harvard’s Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. He points to high rates of obesity as a primary cause, as well as to genetic factors that make African-Americans less sensitive to insulin, something else that raises the odds of having diabetes.
However, says Gabbay, it’s not all grim. “There’s so much people can do to prevent diabetes, to prevent complications,” he says, pointing to a healthy diet and increased exercise as critical components of any diabetes prevention or treatment plan. “That’s one of the most important messages. In large part, it’s an education issue. Not everybody realizes the risks.”
Right after his diagnosis, Anderson changed his lifestyle. He ate the same foods but cut the portion sizes. While a good first step, it took him years to commit fully to taking care of himself. He recalls a morning in 2008 when he woke up ready for change.
“Out of the blue, I decided it was time to get serious,” he says.
With exercise and healthy eating, he dropped more than 45 pounds. “In my Law Order dressing room, I looked in the mirror,” says Anderson. “There was a picture of the old me there. I was fat. Not anymore.”
These days, he bikes, he hits the treadmill, he lifts weights, he gardens. He spent time as a vegan but now allows himself fish and chicken along with organic fruits and vegetables. He still loves fried chicken and steak with butter, but both are infrequent treats.
“It’s all about moderation,” he says.
That message, he says, has reached his children. “My kids live healthy lives. They exercise, they run around. I tell them, eat brown rice. Don’t drink soda. You don’t need that.”