Diabetes hits close to home for A's players
Rich or poor, few people have not been touched in some way by diabetes, a potentially deadly disease growing so rapidly it is considered an epidemic in the United States.
In Alameda County, the percentage of people suffering from diabetes -- 7.8 percent -- outstrips the state average of 6 percent.
That is why several Oakland A's players spent part of Thursday afternoon raising $29,000 for diabetes research and treatment during the team's Root Beer Float Day.
The annual event has raised more than $300,000 in the past eight years for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
The cause hits home for A's infielders Jemile Weeks and Adam Rosales, whose mothers suffer from diabetes. As a child, former A's second baseman Mark Ellis watched diabetes claim the vision, and ultimately the life of his grandmother. His grandfather and father also suffered from the disease, which was the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States in 2007.
"It's coming on strong," Ellis said by telephone Wednesday, a day before the A's traded him to the Colorado Rockies.
"A lot of people are coming down with diabetes," he said.
The A's hometown of Oakland has reported the highest number of diabetes-related deaths in Alameda County: 293 between 2006 and 2008, according to the county's public health department. The number of deaths countywide was 917.
But Cherryland, San Lorenzo and Hayward had the highest rate. That means, for
Alameda, Berkeley and Pleasanton had the lowest rates.
"Diabetes has been around for hundreds of years, and we're still trying to figure out how it works," said Brenda Yamashita with the health department.
The agency describes diabetes as a chronic disease in which the body does not properly use insulin. This, in turn, can lead to blood glucose (sugar) levels that are too high. The rarer form of diabetes, Type 1, develops when the body's immune system destroys the only cells in the body that make insulin, which regulates blood glucose.
A far more common variation is Type 2 diabetes. It usually begins when cells stop using insulin properly. As the need for insulin rises, the pancreas gradually loses its ability to produce insulin. This is the form of diabetes that claimed the life of Ellis' grandmother and usually affects adults.
But doctors are diagnosing a startling number of children and adolescents because of a rise in juvenile obesity.
"Managing obesity is going to be huge," Yamashita said.
Age and weight gain often trigger diabetes, "but not in every case," Yamashita said. "There are a lot of variables."
One of them is genetic. Diabetes "runs in the family," Yamashita said.
African-Americans, according to county health department figures, are more likely than any other racial or ethnic group to suffer from diabetes. And black men have the county's highest death rates for diabetes, according to the study "His Health: Alameda County Male Health Status Report."
A diet high in salt, sugar and fat is another variable. Education is also a key factor.
Adults with a high school education or less were nearly twice as likely to have diabetes as those with a high school degree or higher -- 6.1 percent compared to 11.1 percent, respectively.
Yamashita said education determines access to health insurance, health care, medication and healthy food. It also affects access to exercise, one of the key factors in preventing and managing diabetes, Yamashita said.
"You have to attack the disease from so many avenues."
Ellis said he had his glucose levels tested several years ago during a visit to the Washington Hospital diabetes program.
His levels were normal, but he said he watches his diet and exercises a lot as a professional athlete. "I'm aware of it. And my kids when they get older will be aware of it, too."