High Diabetes Rates In National City Cause Concern
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October 9, 2009 – KPBS investigative reporter Amita Sharma examines reasons for high diabetes rates in National City.
Related story: National City Wants To Plow Back To Its Roots
GLORIA PENNER (Host): And now we turn to National City, which many of us know for its "Mile of Cars" This week we learn that it's also the city with the highest diabetes rate in San Diego County. Investigative reporter Amita Sharma is here to explain. Amita, that's kind of shocking to think. Why are diabetes rates so high in National City? AMITA SHARMA (KPBS Investigative Reporter): Well, there are a couple of reasons, actually. National City is the poorest city in San Diego County. And like other impoverished towns all over this country, there isn't a lot of access to high quality fruits and vegetables. There is also a disproportionate number of fast food places, which doesn't serve healthy food, but offers food that is much cheaper. There's another reason. 60 percent of the people who live in National City are Latino. And most of them are Mexican. Mexicans eat a lot of beans, rice and tortillas. All carbohydrates which the body converts as sugar, converts into sugar. Another reason is that they use a lot of lard in their cooking... straight fat, which causes obesity. PENNER: Obesity. Okay, what is the link then between obesity and diabetes? SHARMA: There is a strong link between obesity and diabetes. I spoke with Dr. Athena Tsimikas at the Scripps Whittier Institute for Diabetes. And she said there is no doubt that diabetes is tied to obesity. She said if people could attain and then maintain their ideal body weight, there would be a dramatic reduction in diabetes. PENNER: You're talking about an economic group that doesn't have access to quality foods. You're talking about a culture that's use to eating the kinds of foods you described, so what can National City do about this problem? SHARMA: Well, there's an idea that's floating around by a gentlemen whose name is Richard Kiy. He heads the International Community Foundation that works on border health. And it's his idea, it's his goal to create a large urban farm that would grow commonly eaten fruits and vegetables. Those fruits and vegetables would then be sold at a farmer's market at affordable prices and this market would also accept food stamps. PENNER: I'm thinking about National City. I'm picturing it. I use to live in the South Bay. How are they going to plant a garden big enough to feed all those people in National City, which is a very developed area? SHARMA: That's a very good question. National City is all developed out. It's all built out. So, the idea is to convert this 76-acre municpal golf course into an urban farm. At least, if not all of it, part of it. PENNER: So, what do city officials say about that idea? SHARMA: Well, I spoke to Brad Raulston. He heads the Community Development Department, and he's all for the idea. The City already has a couple urban farms. They are thinking about converting a couple of intersections into urban farms, so he's on board. Here's more of what he had to say. BRAD RAULSTON (Head of Community Development Department): "Essentially what we're trying to do is go back to our roots because National City was "Rancho de la Nacion" was essentially a large farm when it was created. We have an ideal climate for growing things…..limited space. And there is definitely an argument to be made that there are a greater needs than golf. PENNER: That sounds pretty positive to me. So, what are the chances that all of this is going to happen? SHARMA: Well, it is, it sounds positive. There is some chance that there will be some opposition to shutting down this golf course, or at least closing part of it. Because this particular golf course offers golf at bargain basement rates and while it's not used by a lot of the city's residents, it is used widely by people who live out of town, so I think city officials are sort of girding themselves for some opposition to this. PENNER: Well we'll see when the announcement finally comes through. Thank-you very much Amita Sharma. SHARMA: Thank-you.