Diabetes Myths Among Latinos

Dispelling the myths that touch diabetes lives

By Manny Hernandez


Editor's Note: While this columnist is no longer writing for dLife.com and we have ceased to update the information contained herein, there is much to be read here that is still applicable to the lives of people with diabetes. If you wish to act on anything you learn here, be sure to consult your doctor first. Please enjoy the column!

June 2008 —The word "myth" tends to be associated with fiction. However, some believe myths to be true. When the myth in question deals with diabetes, you are stepping into dangerous territory.

For this edition of "Hola Diabetes" we're talking about common myths among Latinos with diabetes with Barry Conrad, a Certified Diabetes Educator from the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes at Stanford University. Because he speaks Spanish, Barry gets a chance to talk to three or four Hispanic patients with diabetes a week. We also spoke with Jen Block, another Certified Diabetes Educator and Research Nurse at Stanford University Medical Center.

Manny Hernandez: Can you tell us any stories of Latinos you have worked with?

Barry Conrad, CDE: One that sticks out is about a little girl diagnosed with diabetes at 8 months of age. The mom only spoke Spanish. I spent a lot more time with them while she was in the hospital because I knew that I needed to set the mom up with the right information [at that point] because she would have a huge influence on the rest of the life of this little girl. Now the girl is almost 2 years old and they are doing great!

MH: What are some common myths you run into among Latino patients?

BC: I regularly encounter these three myths: One is the belief that insulin is a drug that will make you addicted and will kill you. I hear "My to had diabetes and he died 6 months after he started using insulin." Another myth is that of a fatalistic approach to diabetes: "I am going to die anyway, so why take care of my diabetes?" The third is that it is okay to have a high blood sugar, but there is a great fear of lows.

MH: Why do you think there is such a fear of lows?

BC: Because lows happen fast and the kids and the families see the danger in the moment. They normally do not worry about what might happen 5-10 years in the future.

MH: Why do you think it is okay for your Hispanic patients to have a high blood sugar?

BC: Being high all of the time seems to feel "safe" to families. They do not see any of the negative effects of highs. They think that the doctors are wrong and they are not going to get complications.

Or, some kids or families will try to control their blood sugars for a little while. They end up being high so they throw up their hands and say, "I am going to be high anyway, so why should I even try?!"

MH: Do you think these perceptions are more related to the educational level than to the patient's ethnicity?

BC: Yes and no. Yes, because everyone of lower education is going to have less information available. No, because there is a huge barrier with language and health care providers. Lower educated families that speak English are going to have a longer interaction with the providers than the Spanish speaking families.

When the provider only speaks English, they are only going to tell the Spanish speaking family what changes they should make to their diabetes plan with broken Spanish or with a translator. When the family speaks English, the provider may ask if the family has questions about the diabetes plan.

MH: What other concerns do you have in regards to Latinos with diabetes?

Jen Block, CDE: Hispanics are very weary of information provided by health care providers and rely more heavily on the experiences of friends and family. I think this may arise from the strength that the Hispanic community draws from their extended family but as health care providers it can be a challenge to be sure we can deliver information in a way that ensures accuracy and does not refute or contradict family and friends.

MH: Thanks, Jen and Barry!

Diabetes research and data is advancing rapidly and the diabetes information health care providers deliver today may be different than what your grandmother was told, but that does not make it incorrect.

It is key for us as Hispanics with diabetes or prediabetes to not let our traditions or our language get in the way of a healthier life. Friends and family, are a fundamental source of support, love and care. But your health care team should be your first point of contact for your diabetes management. And if language is a barrier for you or for a loved one with diabetes, find health care providers with whom you can communicate comfortably.

dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.

Last Modified Date: May 29, 2013

All content on dLife.com is created and reviewed in compliance with our editorial policy.

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