The UF Diabetes Institute and affiliated student organizations are working to inform the community about people with diabetes, who are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.
In a semester that has been experienced online for the most part, the UFDI has continued its efforts to educate and raise awareness about diabetes. November is American Diabetes Month, according to the American Diabetes Association.
The institute now hosts online seminars and has been able continue a program that provides the homeless diabetes community with free access to health care and medical supplies, Dr. Mark Atkinson, director of the institute, said.
UFDI was created in 2015 to conduct research, raise awareness about diabetes, educate and take care of patients living with the disease, Atkinson said.
“We've always been there and trying to make the lives of an individual with diabetes — be it Type 1, Type 2, gestational diabetes — better,” Atkinson said.
Type 1 and Type 2 are the most common types of diabetes. In Type 1, the person’s body does not produce insulin, the hormone needed to regulate blood sugar and use glucose as energy. Whereas Type 2 is when the body cannot properly use or doesn’t produce enough of it, according to the American Diabetes Association.
The UFDI hosted its latest seminar Friday afternoon in honor of World Diabetes Day. The speaker, Dr. Irl Hirsch, professor of metabolism, endocrinology and nutrition at the University of Washington, was invited to present research about the risks of contracting COVID-19 as a patient with diabetes to help raise awareness.
More than 60 people interested in the topic attended the event. They asked questions in the Zoom chat about racial disparities in diabetes, future improvement and the need for more research in the field, among other topics.
Hirsch presented data from five studies that show how poorly controlled Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes, age and obesity place patients at a higher risk of mortality if infected with COVID-19.
The U.S. health care system should develop strategies to increase access to health care for people, especially minorities and those who don’t trust the system or have limited access to resources and medical supplies, Hirsch said.
In the U.S., Black people are dying at 2.1 times the rate of white people due to COVID-19, according to data from the COVID tracking project.
In years past, UFDI diabetes awareness events would mostly happen on Nov. 14, World Diabetes Day. These included blood sugar screenings, a competition of diabetes research posters and in-person seminars free and open to the public. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they were all canceled.
But in adapting, UFDI is now planning on having monthly webinars to draw attention to diabetes-related topics, Atkinson said. The next webinar, titled “The intersection between Alzheimer's disease and diabetes,” will happen on Nov. 19 at 9 a.m., according to the UFDI website.
It is important to draw attention to the diabetes community globally because understanding the disease and having access to education, medical supplies and affordable insulin are concerns that go beyond borders, Atkinson said.
“It's World Diabetes Day. It's not UF Diabetes Day. It's not U.S. Diabetes Day,” Atkinson said.
Brooke Miller, a 21-year-old UF nutritional science senior, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 3 and is now the president of the Gator College Diabetes Network, a national non-profit organization under UFDI.
Miller is also an All for ONE diabetes mentor, a diabetes student ambassador and a diabetes research assistant at UF — all of which all fall under the UFDI. She said this month should be used to raise awareness about the different ways in which diabetes behaves and can be misunderstood as well as to fundraise money to fund research focused on finding a cure to the disease.
“It is a really good way to educate people who already know a lot about the disease or educate people who have no clue what the disease even is,” she said.