Check your bread, your soup, your yogurt, your salad dressing; here in the United States we find ways to put sugar in everything we eat.
Check your blood; if you’re like one in ten Americans today you’ll find extra sugar there too.
Diabetes (also called hyperglycemia) may be officially classified as the #7 cause of death in the US, but its contributing role to various other serious health complications could push it much further up on the list. While type 1 diabetes is genetic, the 95% of diabetics with the type 2 form almost always develop it due to influences from their environment and lifestyle. That should be good news. It should mean that we can make choices – what we eat, what we do, the air we breathe – that prevent us from developing this debilitating disease. Unfortunately, too many – like our nation’s vast number of migrant farmworkers – have poor choices forced upon them. What does this mean for the health of the people who feed us?
Most of the millions of migrant farmworkers in the US are of Hispanic descent, and of those almost half identify as Mexican. This mirrors an unfortunate finding: Hispanics are overall much more likely to contract type 2 diabetes than any other racial group besides African-Americans, and within that classification Mexicans show by far the highest prevalence. Genetic influences are debated, but what is sure is that external factors are what play the largest role in developing the insulin resistance that marks type 2 diabetes. Working and living in the fields, our nation’s farmworkers are vulnerable to each of the greatest risk factors for developing the disease. Rural living and low wages force difficult dietary choices not only for the adults, but for their children: the group who shows a skyrocketing increase in diabetes rates over recent years. Fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are less available than packaged foods high in sugar, fat, and salt. That junk food creates blood sugar spikes that can lead to insulin resistance. No matter your budget, there are always ways to get started on a healthier path:
Real food – not boxes! Nutrition labels are complicated because of all the artificial additions. On the other hand, nature designed fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains to give you the balance of nutrients you need.
Plate the rainbow. Engage yourself and your kids in adding color to every meal or snack. Throw in some orange carrots, green broccoli, or purple grapes and you’ll mix up your vitamins every day.
Team up. Eating real food doesn’t have to be expensive. Join your neighbors to buy fruits, vegetables, and grain in bulk – share real food and keep each other motivated to eat healthy!
Play with your food. Involve kids in cooking from a young age, and enjoy the process! Play with different flavor combinations, and use simple garden spices like cilantro or rosemary to make a boring dish tasty.
Breakfast is for champions. Even a small breakfast keeps energy up and kills cravings for high-calorie foods and sodas later that day. Some healthy grab-and-go breakfasts for the early worker? Banana, apple, nuts, easy homemade granola, or a peanut butter sandwich.
Socioeconomic standing can affect migrant farmworkers’ access to quality healthcare. Health education is the key to making the right lifestyle choices to prevent diabetes, as are the simple blood sugar screenings that diagnose diabetes or pre-diabetes. Everyone should have access to a healthcare provider who answers at least these simple questions:
What is diabetes?
How can I prevent diabetes?
How can I manage existing diabetes?
Open access to healthcare from childhood onwards is crucial to stopping diabetes before it starts.
On the other hand, working in a strenuous physical environment as most farmworkers do could have a silver lining. More and more jobs are sedentary, and lack of physical activity is a huge factor in diabetes and the obesity that often accompanies it. For better or for worse, the exercise farmworkers get on the job can help keep the illness at bay.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that World Diabetes Day falls in mid-November – the moment much of America is gearing up for two holidays often celebrated with sitting and eating. We here at AFOP Health & Safety hope you enjoy and savor that blessing of food, without forgetting about the people who put it on the table. Supporting health education and access is a blessing for farmworker families particularly vulnerable to diabetes. The burden of this disease is present 365 days a year. On one day – November 14th, World Diabetes Day – get smart to type 2 diabetes and how easily one of the greatest burdens on global health can be prevented.
Interested in further research on diabetes on the farm?