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S. Epatha Merkerson is well-known for award-winning roles on the stage and screen. But what you may not know is that she is one of the 4.9 million African-American adults living with diabetes.
That’s nearly 20 percent of the adult African-American population. The disease is found in about 8.3 percent of the overall American population.
The award winning actress, best known for her 17-years role as Anita Van Buren on NBC’s long-running series “Law & Order”, knew she had a family history of the disease, but was unaware that she had the condition until 2003. She’s was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes that year after having her blood sugar tested at a health fair.
She took heed to the wakeup call and got serious about her health, according to the website americasdiabeteschallenge.com. She worked with her physician to design a plan that includes the right diet, exercise and medications so she can meet her A1C goal.
AIC is the average blood sugar lever over the past two or three months.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that many people with diabetes have an A1C of less than 7 percent to help reduce the risk of complications, such as blindness, amputation, heart disease and stroke. Nearly half of people with diabetes have an A1C greater than 7 percent. For certain individuals, a higher or lower A1C may be more appropriate, which is why it is important for people with diabetes to speak with their health care providers to discuss the A1C goal that is right for them.
Merkerson now checks her blood sugar twice daily and tracks her A1C levels, keeps a log of weekly progress and makes and keeps regular appointments with her doctor to keep on top of her condition.
Type 2 diabetes is a significant health concern in the African-American community. African Americans are more likely than other ethnic groups to be affected by type 2 diabetes and to experience serious long-term health problems over time from the disease. It is the fourth leading cause of death in the community.
Merkerson is teaming with Merck on America’s Diabetes Challenge: Get to Your Goals. As a part of this program, Merkerson is encouraging people with type 2 diabetes to join her in pledging to know their A1C and to talk to their doctors about setting and attaining their own A1C goal.
“I lost my father and grandmother to complications of diabetes,” says Merkerson, “So I learned firsthand how important it is to know your A1C and make a commitment to get to your goal. I’m excited to be working on this program to help other African Americans with the condition learn about proper blood sugar management and inspire them to achieve their own blood sugar goals.”
By sticking to her plan, Merkerson has kept her blood sugar under control.
Monitoring is important because diabetes is a progressive disease. Despite one’s best efforts, your doctor may need to adjust their treatment plans over time to help them reach their blood sugar goals.

Most people with diabetes are aware of the importance of controlling high blood sugar, but it’s also important to understand why blood sugar can sometimes go too low. For people on certain diabetes medications, low blood sugar can be caused by skipping meals or excessive exercise and can make you feel shaky, dizzy, sweaty or hungry, or faint. If you have type 2 diabetes, have your doctor explains the signs and symptoms of high and low blood sugar to you and tell your doctor if you are experiencing any of those symptoms.
MAKE THE PLEDGE
Diabetics and their family members can learn more at www.AmericasDiabetesChallenge.com. You can join in the America’s Diabetes Challenge Facebook community at Facebook.com/AmericasDiabetesChallenge. You can make a A1C pledge, learn more about Merkerson’s diabetes story, and find tips for better blood sugar management there.
ASK YOUR DOCTOR
Achieving blood sugar control can be challenging, yet it is a crucial part of a diabetes management plan. Here are some key questions to bring up with your physician:
What is my A1C and what should my goal be?
How often should I test my blood sugar and what should my targets be?
What are the possible side effects of the medication(s) I am taking?
What are the signs and symptoms of high and low blood sugar?
Do I need to make any changes to my overall diabetes management plan?
Tips for Managing Your Diabetes
Diabetes is a complex disease affecting more than 29 million people in the United States. Although there is no cure, patients with diabetes see better results when the disease is closely managed through lifestyle changes and medication. Along with making good choices about healthy eating and physical activity, patients living with diabetes should discuss blood sugar monitoring, medication, and options for taking their medication with their health care providers.
Betty Krauss, RDN, a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) with Spectrum Health Medical Group, talks diabetes management and suggests what patients can discuss with their doctors at their next appointment.
Q: What is diabetes?
A: Diabetes occurs when the body does not properly use and/or produce enough insulin. Insulin is the hormone needed to convert sugar, starches, and other food into energy. There are 2 types of diabetes: type 1, in which the body makes little to no insulin, and type 2, in which the body produces too little insulin or cannot properly use the insulin that is produced. When the body does not properly use or produce insulin, blood sugar can reach levels outside of healthy ranges. It’s important to manage your diabetes because high blood sugar can damage your body and lead to other health problems if left untreated.
Q: What impact can healthy eating and physical activity have on diabetes?
A: Balancing both lifestyle changes with the proper medicine is important for diabetes management. Building a diabetes-friendly meal plan can help you understand and manage carbohydrates, sugars, and fats and manage your weight. Physical activity can help your body become more sensitive to insulin so it can work more efficiently and helps your muscles burn sugar for energy, which removes sugar from the blood. Careful monitoring is key for diabetes patients to ensure their blood sugar remains within a desired range.
Q: What medication options are available to patients with diabetes?
A: Patients should work with their health care provider to customize a diabetes treatment plan that includes the right medication for reaching their blood sugar goals. Typically, these options include an insulin or noninsulin medication, and may be pills taken by mouth or injections given under the skin.