Living in the “Diabetes Belt”

One of my favorite spots for hiking!  Just don't fall in the water.
One of my favorite spots for hiking! Just don’t fall in the water!


I live in the state of Virginia and have since age one.  I’m at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains and find it a really lovely place to live.  I think this city has won awards for being such a great place to live.  I think my parents decided to come here instead of Miami, Florida because it’s safe.  It’s easy to drive here, low traffic, everyone obeys traffic signals.  There is a low crime rate, no hurricanes, no tornados, no earthquakes, and mild winters. 

It’s really comfortable here.  Most everyone has a car.  I have never ridden a public bus in my life.  We do have public buses but the overwhelming majority of people drive a car.  And of course they do, we have few sidewalks (and I mean few).  Most of our main roads are one lane each way.  The most popular club in town is unimpressive to say the least…  In school, we always said our town was “boring” and “sucked you in” because of it’s safety making it an appealing place to start a family.  (To be fair this place is growing and diversifying a lot so YAY!)

Guess what we have lots of?  Restaurants!  Shopping!  Movies!  and…wilderness.  Well, the wilderness is outside of the suburbs and a great place to enjoy hiking and trails (and canoeing, white water rafting, skiing etc).  Thing is, not many people like being in the sticks.  So a select group of people use this as a source for activities.  A lot of people fish around here…but I wouldn’t consider that strenuous exercise.  When I was dating my husband we’d drive around and around town looking for something to do and would eventually settle on dinner and a movie.  And dinner at most places around here has a southern influence or charm, as I like to put it.  We like beer, buttered rolls, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes with gravy, steak, french fries, and loads of ranch dressing on our salads. Dessert is a serious ordeal and we prefer it be classic apple pie or dense chocolate cake.  The other factor here is the quantity of food served locally.  At most any restaurant here, I can literally order one meal and eat off of it for three meals.

I don’t know how much of the South eats the way most do here but if the latest news about the highest number of type 2 diabetics being in the Southeastern US is any indicator, maybe we’re not alone here in my town.

The culture here has strong ties to certain foods (many of which I just mentioned) and it just so happens those foods are not the best to eat in large portions.  They are full of unhealthy fats and processed carbohydrates.  But it’s not easy to change eating habits.  We’re proud of what we eat.  Not to mention we typically continue to eat what we did growing up.  Our parents fed us what they were fed growing up.  And so on.  I am not originally from here so I ate from the local selection plus whatever my parents grew up eating and that exposure has helped me broaden my tastes and not be so fixated on certain foods.

Maybe this is the biggest problem for the people in Southeastern United States?  A culture of foods that in large quantities, become dangerous to eat.  Seriously, if the enjoyable thing in one’s culture was to have a raw veggie fest every night in front of the TV, the outcome would be a bit different.  Of course, genes are at play with type 2 diabetes but maybe this is all the more reason to try to focus on those factors which we do have control over.  Maybe we can help our odds a bit.

So I’m sending slack to the people of my area because yes, you grew up with all things yummy.  I understand the appeal of fried apple fritters, I SO do.  And I’m not saying you can’t have any.  I’m just saying, things need to change and you can start, little by little, to help make our Southeastern culture one of great health, in addition to one of hospitality, warmth, and faith.

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