WEST CHATHAM — Free diabetes testing is available every Tuesday at the West Chatham Wal-Mart, thanks to St. Bernard Hospital and Health Care Center.
The free testing runs until Labor Day from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at The Clinic at Wal-Mart, 8331 S. Stewart Ave., according to Derek Michaels, a spokesman for St. Bernard Hospital and Health Care Center, 326 W. 64th St.
"Faced with an explosion of younger and younger people developing diabetes, with large numbers going undiagnosed, the clinic is appealing to the community to get tested and take action," Michaels said.
Many of those going undiagnosed are teenagers and young adults, said Danny Rollins, a vice president with St. Bernard.
“Early diagnosis is important to stopping or controlling diabetes," Rollins said. That's why St. Bernard "decided to take action to address the numbers of undiagnosed diabetics we have in the African-American and Latino communities."
Michaels said diabetes is a major health issue in the African-American community in general, but especially in Englewood, a "food desert."
"Diabetes can have enormous quality-of-life consequences for families. They face poor health with possible severe complications, as well as expensive lifelong medical treatment," Michaels said.
According to the American Diabetes Association, nearly 30 percent of Americans with diabetes are undiagnosed. Of the two forms of the disease — Type 1 and Type 2 — the association said Type 2 is more common among minorities, especially blacks.
Since opening in September, the clinic has seen about 1,000 patients, Michaels said.
Besides diabetes testing, which normally costs $20, the clinic offers a wide variety of other services. They include immunizations, basic exams and testing for sexual transmitted diseases, pregnancy and colon cancer. The diabetes testing involves a blood sample from the fingertip, and results are known the same day.
Bad eating habits are one of the reasons diabetes is prevalent in the black community, said Dr. Glenda Flemister, a pulmonary specialist with a private practice in Joliet.
"Obesity tends to be one of the major contributing factors for blacks developing diabetes, especially black women," Flemister said.
Flemister said that with Type 2 diabetes, the body does not produce enough insulin, or the cells ignore the insulin. In order for the body to be able to use glucose for energy, insulin is needed.
“African Americans are not only at risk for Type 2 diabetes but also the co-morbid illnesses associated with the disease such as hypertension,” Flemister said. "There are also other health factors associated with diabetes, such as high blood pressure."
When a person eats food, the body breaks down all of the sugars and starches into glucose, which is the basic fuel for the cells in the body. Insulin takes the sugar from the blood into the cells. When glucose builds up in the blood instead of going into cells, it can lead to diabetes complications, said Dr. Sirimon Reutrakul, an endocrinologist at Rush University Medical Center.
Type 1 diabetes, in which the body stops producing insulin altogether, is usually diagnosed in children and young adults. Only 5 percent to 10 percent of people with diabetes have Type 1, often known as "juvenile diabetes," Reutrakul said.
Diabetics are usually women, according to Evelyn Jones, vice president of nursing and director of the Women's Wellness Clinic at St. Bernard Hospital.
“People prone to develop diabetes are usually female, over age 40, generally are overweight and have a strong family history of diabetes," Jones said. “Diabetes is usually treatable and controllable with proper exercise and diet.”
Dr. Xiang Yang, the doctor on site at the Wal-Mart clinic, said she would like to see more people take advantage of the free testing on Tuesdays.
"Maybe people don't know we are here or what services we provide but I think what we are doing is a valuable service to the community," Yang said. "For the most part, most of the patients we see at the clinic are women and children."