In developing countries like Guatemala there have been rapid changes in diet within a few short decades. The diet of the Lake Atitlan region, while still dominated by tortillas, beans, vegetables, and fruits, has seen an influx of convenience junk food and piles of added sugar. Processed products have flooded the food system with cheap prices that make these low-nutrient, high-calorie items affordable to many of the nation’s poorer families. Buying a bottle of Coca-Cola or the equivalent of a Little Debbie snack has replaced snacks of fruit or other whole foods- possibly saving money and time in the short run, but trading it for good health in the future.
Introducing to Guatemala the same foods that have caused the rise of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease in the United States has only increased the same illnesses here. Even in malnourished families, the rate of diabetes is skyrocketing. Diabetes may be a manageable disease in developed countries, but without adequate funding and access to necessary medicines, many here in Guatemala are suffering tragic complications such as blindness and lesions that often lead to an early death.
While many assume diabetes is only a problem in developed nations, the fact is that 80% of today’s diabetics are found in developing nations such as Guatemala. Mayan Families has formed a Diabetes Club here in Panajachel to serve the growing number of individuals who need help managing their condition. Holding its first meeting in July of 2010 with 12 members, the club has since grown to over 30 people, drawing from communities all around Lake Atitlan. For the men and women who attend, this is their only opportunity to test their blood sugar level all month. Monthly meetings allow the members to come together for a free medical consultation and learn how to better manage their health through various guest speakers and diabetic-friendly snacks. Past meetings have focused on the values of exercise, eye care, nutrition, teeth, diabetic depression, and how to take care of one’s feet.
Usually, one of the main risk factors contributing to diabetes is an individual’s weight. Unlike the diabetic population of the developing world, many Guatemalan diabetics are not overweight, but instead are extremely thin and malnourished. Lack of education about the causes of diabetes and lack of resources to manage the disease leave many of these men and women unable to work to support their family and enjoy a normal life. Depression, loss of limbs, and early deaths are sad facts of life for unmonitored diabetics in developing area such as the highlands of Guatemala. The Diabetes Club not only empowers its members with information on how to improve their lives, but it also creates a ripple effect, sending out knowledgeable individuals to teach others in their community. This information is spreading throughout the Panajachel area, and, with more resources, so will our project.
Currently, the Diabetes Club is fully dependent on the generosity of our donors to continue offering monthly check-ups to the diabetics of the Lake Atitlan region. All members are given a chance to consult with a doctor at each meeting about any concerns they may have, and given available medicine if they are unable to afford it themselves. The club is in great need of more donations that would allow them to buy insulin, a vital resource for those with diabetes, which is prohibitively expensive for the club’s current budget. A supply of insulin to serve a man or woman for one month costs $27. If you would like to help provide this and other life-saving medicines for the people of Lake Atitlan, please click here.
Each meeting of the club also introduces a new menu to the members, expanding their knowledge of what foods are best for their health. Recent meetings have emphasized whole grain products and decreasing the amount of sugar added to beverages like coffee. In addition to funds to continue spreading this knowledge in the community, the club has also asked for help in providing Ensoy Diabetico for its members, a special kind of powdered soy milk that provides an excellent source of protein without the accompanying sugar to damage blood vessels. To help support the worthwhile nutrition projects of the Diabetes Club and spread knowledge of how to combat of this deadly disease in Guatemala, please click here.