Yesterday was hip-hop icon Rev Run’s birthday and World Diabetes Day. Wondering what the two have in common? After learning about the Ask.Screen.Know campaign for diabetes from Novo Nordisk, Rev Run knew he had to get involved to help others at risk for developing the disease.
“I found out that November 14 is World Diabetes Day. That’s actually my birthday,” Rev Run said in an interview this week. “If there ever there was a sign from God: ‘Okay, you’re in the right place. So World Diabetes Day is your birthday, dude—you need to be on board with this.’ So it got me even more passionate about it.”
With a father who had diabetes, Rev Run was worried about his own risk for developing the disease. “I was afraid because I didn’t realize when the last time I was screened. I got concerned right away. I checked myself, got screened and found out that I didn’t have it,” he said. “I realized through the AskScreenKnow.com website at that moment that, you know, ‘I’m at risk though. I’m at risk because I’m over 45. I’m at risk because I’m African American. I’m at risk because I’m overweight. I had to take off some weight.”
Being overweight increases the risk of developing the more prevalent, Type 2 diabetes. According to a 2004 study by Harvard University researchers, excess weight stresses the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) system of cellular membranes, which then suppress the signals of insulin receptors, leading to insulin resistance. In Type 2 diabetes, while the body is able to make enough insulin, the cells of the body grow resistant to insulin consistently increasing the amount of glucose in the blood. Losing weight has been shown to help control, and sometimes even cure, type 2 diabetes.
Rev. Run said he’s traded in cake for chopped up fruit to satisfy his sweet tooth. Since changing his diet and adding walking to his daily routine, Rev Run has lost 20 pounds. “I’ve changed my mindset. I’ve changed my refrigerator,” he said. “I’m doing things so that I can avoid, or at least have less of a risk of getting diabetes.”
Ask.Screen.Know states that more than 1 in 3 American adults are at risk for diabetes, with African Americans nearly twice as likely to develop the disease as Caucasian Americans. The American Diabetes Association reports that 1.7 million Americans were newly diagnosed with diabetes in 2012, bringing the total of those living with the disease to 29.1 million people, or 9.3 percent of the population. Approximately 8.1 million people were yet undiagnosed with the disease, according to the 2014 National Diabetes Statistics Report, which is why early screening and risk assessment is so important.
“I found out I was at risk listening to my husband talk—over 45, I was African American, overweight, and diabetes ran so deep in my family—my father, my uncles, my aunts,” said Rev Run’s wife Justine. “My cousin passed away with diabetes, and she had children and was in her early 30s. So right there let me know—this could be me.”
Someone with a first-degree relative with type 2 diabetes has five to 10 times greater risk for developing diabetes than a person without a family history of the disease, according to the Obesity Action Coalition.
“A lot of people feel that, if it’s in the family, you have to get it and that’s it—live with it,” she said. “But that’s not true. With diabetes, this disease is what you don’t know can hurt you and what you do know can help you.”
Justine has been instrumental in helping to transform the bad habits in the family’s diet by getting more creative in the kitchen. For example, she has a crispy chicken recipe to replace fried chicken. When Rev Run has a hankering for hamburgers, she puts seasoning on veggie crumbles. Topped with fat-free cheese and a pickle, Rev Run said, “It was like eating a real hamburger for me. It’s little changes making big differences.”
Justine, at age 48, has discovered a love of Brussels sprouts that she shares with the kids. “Now, I got an amazing recipe that I love and that the kids love, almost to the point where our son will try to hide his portion and take my portion.” She recalled a late night when she and her 19-year-old son ate freshly baked Brussels sprouts like they were chips. “I couldn’t believe this was happening. So it’s a lot of new things.”
Some of her healthy recipes can be found on AskScreenKnow.com.
With three of their six children still living at home, Justine said, “Thank God our children who are not with us are already eating very well.” At home, healthy living has become a family affair. Their 19-year-old was already making the choice to eat healthy and work out. “That’s what he wants around him. He wants fresh vegetables and fruit. Chicken with no skin. It’s amazing that it happened at the same time, and now it’s like everybody is doing it.”
Rev Run and Justine believe the best way to teach children about diet and diabetes is to live the example. Their 7-year-old already has awareness of the disease. “I just wish my family had this knowledge early,” Justine said.
“We’re going to stop the cycle if we can,” said Rev Run. “At least we’re going to cut the risk.”
After initially being fearful due to having a lot of the risk factors, Justine got tested and founded out she didn’t have the disease. “But now I do know there are a lot of things you can do to cut your risk down, like walking, eating well and working out. Just those things can help cut your risk, or if you do have it, it can keep it under control to where it feels like you’re living a normal life, managing it,” said Justine. “So that’s why we’re here to spread the word because maybe my cousin wouldn’t have passed, and maybe my father wouldn’t have been so sick [with diabetes] right now.”
She and her husband acknowledge that many African Americans are especially hesitant to visit health professionals. “I think I was the top afraid guy to go to the doctor,” Rev Run said. “But what got me was looking at my children, you know—doing it for them. Once I thought about doing it for my wife, doing it for my children, then, for some reason, it struck a chord—like, okay, now it got me afraid because I didn’t want to do anything to hurt anybody else.”
Rev Run admits that he can be especially persistent in encouraging his friends to get checked for diabetes. Many will go in for routine medical testing expecting diabetes screening to be part of it. He said, “A couple of my friends were like, you know what, I didn’t get checked for diabetes, so thank you. So I feel like patting myself on the back a little bit for being so aggressive because it’s been helpful. I’m thankful that I can get in where I fit in. So I’ll tell anybody out there, if not for yourself, do it for the ones you love.”
At Ask.Screen.Know, readers can take the diabetes risk factor assessment. Common risk factors for diabetes also include lack of physical activity and high blood pressure. Those with a number of risk factors are encouraged to see their doctor to get screened for diabetes to take a proactive role in preventing or managing the disease.
View my full interview with Rev Run and Justine here.