'Severed' Shines Light on Black and Brown Communities

Diabetes is extremely common in the United States, with about one in 10 people being diagnosed with the disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A new report dives into the impacts of the condition on Black and Brown communities.

The ABC News report available on Hulu titled "Severed: Diabetes Denial and Mistrusts" explores the negative systemic impacts Black patients receive when requiring care for diabetes. The piece includes input from 12 different individuals or a loved one who had an amputation from the disease.

The report led by Steve Osunsami focuses on type 2 diabetes, which was the cause of death to more than 100,000 Americans in 2021. Those with the condition either resist the effects of insulin or don’t produce enough of it to maintain normal glucose levels, leading to high blood sugar.


Osunsami shares his story with his father, who was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and, lost his eyesight, kidney function, and died before having his legs amputated. He recalls going home and seeing a fridge full of sweets in his father’s home, leading to rage over his old man’s decision to keep unhealthy eating habits despite the condition. Osunsami says his father affirmed that the medication would take care of it, but it didn't.

Glenn Ellis is a medical ethicist, researcher, lecturer, and president of Strategies for Well-Being. In his busy schedule, Ellis found time to check out "Severed". He explains that many in the Black and Brown community, like Osunsami’s father, suffer from health literacy, which leads to further complications.

“There are people of all backgrounds and ethnicities, particularly people of color, black and brown folks, that will say, ‘The doctor tested my sugar, I’m a prediabetic, I’m going to stop eating sweets.’ That is not going to solve the problem. But because of a lack of education, the automatic tendency is to think is about cinnamon rolls and cookies, not that all carbohydrates are going to be converted into glucose,” says Ellis.

glenn ellis
Image courtesy of Glenn Ellis

Ellis grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, during the days of Civil Rights in the nights 1960s. He found himself using different bathrooms, water fountains, and segregation on bus routes. He says every aspect of society has a complement that contributes to certain effects. The inequalities many Black populations have felt through racial barriers have had trickle-down impacts, such as higher rates of diabetes or educational success.

They used to have a saying in my neighborhood that when white folks get a cold, black people get pneumonia. All I’m saying is you can go across the board on anything: unemployment, education levels, diabetes prevalence, you are going to see the disproportionate burden. That is not a blame, that is just a fact.


Rise of diabetes in the U.S.

"Severed" points to the growth in diabetes since 2001, with a 7% increase in cases, and notes that more than 150,000 individuals receive amputations due to the disease each year. Ellis says the lack of movement and physical activity has been a major cause of diabetes in the U.S.


Diabetes in our society is a reflection of the kind of opulence and excessiveness of Westerners, quite frankly. It is a disease that the highest risk factors have to do with obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, and lack of physical activity. Those are the primary risk factors, and if you look, since the Industrial Revolution, we have become a lazier society. Diabetes loves that kind of playground.


In the report, Osunsami sits down with 53-year-old Shelton Echols to discuss his path to becoming a plant-based eater who wishes he had a different lifestyle from the start. Echols was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes when he was 35, saying he was playing “Russian roulette” with his life by living an unhealthy lifestyle.

After noticing an open wound while in the shower, Echols was hesitant to head to the doctor over fears of amputation. Ultimately, Echols received the amputation of his left leg from the knee down due to peripheral arterial disease (PAD). This possible complication from diabetes causes the build-up of fatty acids in the arteries, usually the legs, which restricts blood flow to the muscles and tissues in the legs.

Black and Brown populations throughout the U.S. are more likely to receive amputation surgeries. Dr. Richard Browne, Senior Medical Executive at Johnson & Johnson, is one of the key figures in "Severed." He notes that many diabetic patients of color do not have a physician from a similar ethnic or class background, which creates a barrier to the care they might receive.

For that to change, Ellis says it is about creating “shared experiences.” He notes when attending the University of Pennsylvania after being in the Deep South during his childhood, he was scared to experience a new normal.

“When I got there, not only was it integrated, I was in a co-ed dorm,” Ellis emphasizes.

"I was scared to come out of my dorm room for a month because my only experience was, ‘If you look at that white woman down the hall, they put you in jail.’”

Ellis says that after three to four years, he started to feel more comfortable in his new environment after becoming more socially aware of a desegregated society. He believes it is the same case for those Black and Brown populations who are hesitant to receive care from those who don't represent them due to their limited shared experiences.

Perhaps, continued shared experiences will help eventually turn the tide of hesitancy to care due to racial or class differences.



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