Most Americans have seen firsthand what the downside of diabetes can do to the human body. If you haven’t contracted the disease from a young age, then many acquired it through years of a bad diet and lack of exercise. Just like heart disease, it is considered a silent killer among African-Americans.
According to America’s Diabetes Challenge, both African-American and Hispanic/ Latino adults are at a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes than any other ethnic group, and it is the fifth leading cause of death among both populations.
This is a serious and life threatening disease that can be managed if caught in a timely fashion with the change of one’s diet as well as applying a daily exercise routine.
Epatha Merkerson is a familiar face on the small screen and theater has transfixed us with her extraordinary performances on Law & Order for 17 years as Lieutenant Anita Van Buren and earned an Emmy and Golden Globe award for her performance in the HBO film, “Lackawanna Blues.” She has been battling with type 2 diabetes for thirteen years and is now one of the featured celebrity spokesmen for the “Americas Diabetes Challenge.”
“I teamed up with Merck and the American Diabetes Association because they wanted to encourage people with type 2 diabetes like me to know their A1C levels. They need to go to their doctor and set up a program.” She said the A1C is a simple blood test to allow the doctor to see how you’re managing your average blood glucose level over the 2-3-month period. Merkerson checks her blood sugar level twice a day.
“For me, that’s what I do and that tells me what my blood sugar level is at that moment. It really helps your doctor come up with an individualized program. What I’ve learned is that it’s not a ‘one size fit all’ disease—it’s different with each person.”
With a busy schedule and long wait time in between scenes, it’s easy to pass the time snacking and not paying attention to diet and exercise. Merkerson got a big wake-up call at a health fair thirteen years ago, where she decided to take a blood glucose test. She scheduled a doctor’s appointment and they told her she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
A native of Saginaw, Michigan—she grew up in Detroit being one of five siblings. Although there was a history of diabetes in her family, it didn’t resonate that the disease would come knocking at her door years later.
“When I was diagnosed, I had a family history. My dad died, my grandmother lost her sight, my uncle lost his limbs I had every opportunity to be aware of what this disease does to you. But, I think that we have to make it more of a conversation within our family.”
With the rich tradition of Soul food and the shared family recipes that encompass and celebration Black cultural cuisine—it has gone beyond just having the ‘sugar.’
“The thing that is most important to me is that I’m speaking from my own personal experience. If there is a predisposition of diabetes in your family and you think your children are at risk—then you have to get them to the doctor.”
Merkerson Encourages All Ages to Access
She says, “There is information on the symptoms you can look for on both high and low blood sugar. There’s questions you can ask your doctor. It’s chock full of information that will be helpful in making lives of loved ones better.”
Meanwhile, the 63-year old actress is healthier and more aware of utilizing her celebrity to educate and encourage more people to visit their healthcare providers for care.
Never losing a beat, fans are loving her new role on ‘Chicago Med’—another Dick Wolf production. She’s happy that the show has been picked up for a second season.
“Working with Dick Wolf has always been great for me. This is my fourth show with him. I know the script is going to be interesting and the production is first rate.”
With maintaining a healthy diet and balancing work while shooting the television show in Chicago—she loves the city, the people, the food and growth of the film industry.
“It’s a great city to work in and it’s really kind of wonderful to see how much work is in Chicago. I’m from the Midwest. There’s a certain kind of folk that you meet in the Midwest that you don’t meet anywhere else.”