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  • By Denise Mesa Mendiola

Fight this killer disease

I did something stupid the other day. While we were shopping for groceries, my 10-year-old daughter peered through the glass doors in the frozen dessert section and asked if she could buy a pint of acai frozen fruit. I took one look at the small container that had a $9 price tag and immediately shook my head. Then, she picked up a box of ice cream sandwiches that was on sale for $3.99 and I smirked and told her that she would need to share with her sister.

As an educated mother, you would think that I would be more conscious of their health. Thanks to the foresight of my grandparents and parents, our family land is abundant with fresh fruits and vegetables and we can’t store enough mangoes and papayas this season. I admit, I was making a budget decision, but that is not the point of this story. As we were leaving, I noticed a woman being pushed through the aisles in a wheelchair. Her legs were amputated and she looked grey and tired, as if her spirit was sucked out of her. It was obvious she was suffering from diabetes.

Diabetes is a disease in which the body’s ability to produce or respond to the hormone insulin is impaired, resulting in abnormal metabolism of carbohydrates and elevated levels of glucose in the blood and urine. It was the fourth leading cause of deaths on Guam in 2005. About 9 out of 10 people with prediabetes don’t even know they have it, according to figures from the 2014 Guam Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Report. At that time, the youngest known child diagnosed with type-2 diabetes in Guam was just 5 years old. At the 18th annual Guam Diabetes Conference in 2017, a medical professional reported that the rates of prediabetes in younger age groups is steadily climbing.

Almost everyone living in Guam is related to, and/or knows someone suffering from diabetes. My family has lost four loved ones over the course of my lifetime and they all had a few things in common. They led sedentary lifestyles, rarely exercising and spending a lot of time sitting down. They ate canned food, drank soda and any fresh vegetables were salted. They didn’t have the right support, but instead were surrounded by loving enablers that didn’t want to see them upset. I remember watching in frustration as my cousin quickly lost her muscle, eyesight, and then her leg before she became too ill to sit up and finally passed away quietly from diabetes in her hospital bed. She had much support from our extended family, but the damage was done a long time ago.

Prevention and education are the key components to the island’s “Strategic Plan for Diabetes Prevention and Control for 2016-2020.” The Guam Diabetes Control Coalition also has plans to drastically curb diabetes rates on Guam that may include a sugar tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, syrups, and powders. Several states in the U.S. mainland have already passed sugar tax laws.

While I am not a fan of increased taxes, I would support it if the funds are used for education campaigns that will result in the increase in sustainable home and school gardens. Even better, an organized procurement system that promotes and protects the supply of locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables to school and hospital cafeterias. At the end of the day, the possibility of young adults inflicted with diabetes will depend on the cultural, diet, and social decisions that their parents made for them while they were children.

Denise Mesa Mendiola is senior business advisor at the University of Guam- Small Business Development Center, and program coordinator at the Bank of Guam Women in Business Program. Send feedback to

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