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Not Your Grandfather’s Disease: Youth Change the Conversation About Type 2 Diabetes

Most young people consider diabetes a “grandfather’s disease,” inherited at birth. They don’t always know that there are two very different forms of the disease, and that type 2 diabetes is preventable. This lack of awareness has staggering implications—between 2000 and 2008, rates of diabetes and prediabetes among Americans ages 12 to 19 shot from 9 percent to 23 percent.

That’s where the The Bigger Picture comes in. Youth Speaks, a San Francisco based arts nonprofit that empowers teenagers through poetry, teamed up with the University of San Francisco’s Center for Vulnerable Populations in 2010 to launch a project that encourages young people to “raise their voice and change the conversation around type 2 diabetes.”

Headlines about diet-related health conditions frequently focus on individual solutions like exercising and “eating right.” In doing so, the media ignore the systemic conditions that make these kinds of solutions impossible for many, including unsafe parks that prohibit exercise, lack of access to healthy, sustainable foods, and an oversaturation of junk food marketing. Take, for example, the fact that the food and beverage industry spends nearly $12 billion annually to market unhealthy, highly-processed foods to predominantly low-income, minority communities. Statistics like these have a strong impact on the young poets involved in The Bigger Picture, who produce in-school multimedia presentations, online tool kits for teachers and students, and short “cinematic poems” that give life to their messages.

Mentors from Youth Speaks and UCSF’s Center for Vulnerable Populations lead ten-week workshops where in young people learn about diabetes. Participants then author poems that channel their own experiences and relate them to the environmental and socioeconomic factors that contribute to the prevalence of the disease.

Since its launch, the campaign has produced thirteen poetry-infused films that flip the motif of the traditional this-is-your-brains-on-drugs PSA style and instead deliver frank messages about the social factors shaping our health. These films have garnered attention from Upworthy and the inaugural Food Farms Films Festival. The project also launched a Spanish-language website and two bilingual films, as Latino communities are often disproportionately affected by type 2 diabetes. The Bigger Picture plans to roll out statewide in 2014, specifically in the cities of Stockton and Richmond—where city-wide soda taxes were proposed and overturned in 2012.

Below is Jade Cho’s “Health Justice Manifesto,” which she modeled after the Black Panther Party’s 21-point party platform. Featuring several Bigger Picture poets, Cho’s piece serves as the program’s anthem, as it continues change the conversation around this preventable disease.

For More information on The Bigger Picture, follow the project on Twitter or like them on Facebook.

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