What We Don’t Know Will Cost Us!

Posted: Monday, November 5, 2012 10:33 am

By Lisa Mitchell-Bennett Special To The Star

Jose, 33 years old, is a hardworking father of two. His job selling phones at a store in a mall doesn’t offer him health insurance, and he recently gave up his second job to return to college. He thinks of himself as healthy, since he never misses work and always provides for his family. Of course he never goes to the doctor because he can’t afford it. When representatives from the UT School of Public Health in Brownsville recently knocked on his door and offered participation in a local research study that would provide him with results of free health screenings and lab work, his wife encouraged him to enroll in the study. “She’s always worried about me since my father died young from a heart attack and my mother is very ill with diabetes. So I went to the appointment and they did a blood test. I answered all kinds of questions and surveys. Then they gave me the results. I was totally blown away! I have diabetes and I never knew it.”

Jose is not a rare case by any means. In fact, according to Sue Fisher-Hoch, MD and Professor of Epidemiology at the School of Public Health, recent findings from the Cameron County Hispanic Cohort Study reveal high rates of diabetes among our local population, and more surprisingly high rates of people who never knew they were diabetic. In fact a full 62.7 % of the randomly selected Cameron County residents who are diabetic actually were unaware that they meet the criteria for a diabetes diagnosis and as such are not being treated nor making the necessary dietary and lifestyle changes to manage the disease. Many of these folks are young, working and educated. Eventually, if left untreated, the disease will seriously damage their bodies. Fisher-Hoch says we should all be concerned about these statistics. “Diabetes that is undiagnosed and untreated has been likened to running a car without changing the oil. Eventually the engine seizes up. This costs us all in terms of treatment, quality of life and an able-bodied work-force.”

“The study has also found that other diseases such as hypertension and hypercholesterolemia are common in our local population. These diseases adversely impact the local community, the health system and the economy,” according to Fisher-Hoch.

A paper summarizing findings of this local research study was recently published in the Journal Preventing Chronic Disease (Fisher-Hoch et.al 2012). The article ends with the following summary of the somewhat daunting local statistics:

“This stark portrait is of a highly disparate, largely uninsured minority population with extensive neglect of chronic disease which is younger than the US population overall. This is unaffordable. In October 2011, the World Economic Forum estimated that by 2030 chronic disease will cost $47 trillion globally. The economic toll of diabetes in the workplace in the Lower Rio Grande Valley alone (where this cohort resides) is estimated to be $227 million a year in lost wages. Preventive medicine is key to controlling the economic impact of chronic diseases in minority communities. Neglecting and ignoring disease trends in populations with health disparities will have costly consequences for the nation as a whole.”

Statistics are one thing, but what does knowing he has diabetes mean for Jose, without insurance and with limited access to a doctor? “It means I just have to make lifestyle changes, and learn how to watch my (blood) sugar. I should also lose a few pounds, and eat more healthy vegetables, less starch and sugar. I have started exercising and making healthier choices. It is also important I get to the doctor. I have to do my part and take this disease seriously. I have so many dreams. I want to finish my degree and get a better job. I want to raise my kids and be around for my future grandkids!” As we all do, because Tu Salud ¡Si Cuenta!

Tu Salud ¡Si Cuenta! is a community-wide campaign of the University of Texas School of Public Health (UTSPH) Brownsville Regional Campus and Transforming Texas. The UTSPH Cameron County Cohort Study is expanding to Harlingen and other areas of the county. If you have any questions or comments, please respond to columns@brownsvilleherald.com