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Diabetes on the rise: Culture, environment and stigma all play a role

Diabetes on the rise: Culture, environment and stigma all play a role

Picture of Elizabeth Aguilera

Diabetes impacts nearly 10 percent of Americans – that’s roughly 29.1 million people – and people of color are twice as likely to be diagnosed. Studies show another 8 million have not been diagnosed and millions more are considered pre-diabetic.

The Centers for Disease Control says diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, kidney failure, amputations, heart failure and stroke. It is expensive, emotional and traumatic for families and society, especially among Latinos, African-Americans and Native Americans.

The numbers are staggering — California has one of the highest rates in the U.S. — but diabetes remains a disease that few people discuss and many simply expect to get because it is prevalent in their family. Diabetes is something we all know exists but it gets little attention. When I started to talk to experts about diabetes, the one factor that continuously arose was the growing prevalence of the disease and its devastating toll.

I am interested in why diagnoses of this disease have increased so quickly, especially among people of color, and what factors contribute to the trend. Long before a diabetes diagnosis is given, studies show other factors such as food access, education, obesity and income may have laid a foundation for the disease.

One of the challenges with tackling these stories is that diabetes is not new, it’s not an instant killer, and it is a disease that disproportionately impacts the overweight, the less fortunate and people of color. I hope to explain some of the stigma that keeps diabetes below the surface through my reporting.

My 2016 California Fellowship series will explore the narrative of diabetes through its impact on families; how they have come to accept it; what cultural, environmental and financial factors may play a role; efforts to push back the disease through food and exercise; and how the health care system is trying to slow its spread through cultural outreach and place-based programs.  

[Photo by Diabetes Education Events via Flickr.]


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Dear Elizabeth:

We found your post on the USC Center for Health Journalism yesterday after reading "Like Flint, water in California's Central Valley unsafe, causing health problems," by Rebekah Sager. She did a very good job and we learned something we did not know; lots of people were suffering from type-2 diabetes in the Central Valley of California, and there seemed to be no way to prevent it.

Apparently, the State of California does not know what to do to control this serious diabetes problem. However, there are scientific papers that indicate that type-2 diabetes is caused by diet and can be cured by diet.

Then, on your website, we found the announcement of a study program that you, Elizabeth Aguilera, were just starting; "Diabetes on the Rise: Culture, environment and stigma, all play a role."

My wife (Alice) and I (Fred) are very old, retired public health scientists. We enjoyed our work very much and now that we are retired we have continued studying disease prevention and are up to date on the science of type-2 diabetes (we call it T2D).

We have been keeping up to date by using our spare time using PubMed to find papers on dietary-caused diseases. We make pdf copies of the good papers and save these in thumb drives.

If you are interested, we can use email to talk over what you need and then can ship relevant pdf copies to you via email.

Please note that we are old and retired and do not want any notoriety, or favors, or money. We don't want notoriety because do not want to be bothered. We are too old. We just want to help if we can. The scientific papers are quite well able to do all of the talking and taking credit for their work.

Thank you for your interest. Best regards!

Fred and Alice Ottoboni


The Center for Health Journalism’s 2023 National Fellowship will provide $2,000 to $10,000 reporting grants, five months of mentoring from a veteran journalist, and a week of intensive training at USC Annenberg in Los Angeles from July 16-20. Click here for more information and the application form, due May 5.


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