Not Your Grandfather's Disease: Youth Change the Conversation About Type 2 Diabetes | Civil Eats

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

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 11.58.59 PMMost 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.

newsmatch banner 2022

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.

We’ll bring the news to you.

Get the weekly Civil Eats newsletter, delivered to your inbox.

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

Today’s food system is complex.

Invest in nonprofit journalism that tells the whole story.

José Vadi is a writer, performer, producer and educator living in Oakland, California. A two-time poetry slam champion, José was featured in the HBO documentary series, Brave New Voices and received the San Francisco Foundation’s Shenson Performing Arts Award for his debut play, A Eulogy for Three, produced at Intersection for the Arts under the direction of Marc Bamuthi-Joseph. Recently publishing work in Gigantic Mag, José earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Non-Fiction at Mills College before creating The Off/Page Project, a new collaboration between Youth Speaks and The Center for Investigative Reporting, that garnered national attention upon its launch in August 2013. He also serves as a contributor and social media manager for The Bigger Picture. Read more >

Like the story?
Join the conversation.

More from

Food Justice


Ann Tenakhongva, 62, and her husband, Clark Tenakhongva, 65, sort traditional Hopi Corn at their home on First Mesa on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona on September 28, 2022. The corn comes from the families’ field in the valley between First Mesa and Second Mesa, which Clark had just harvested. The corn is organized on racks to dry out and then stored in cans and bins for years to come. Much of the corn is ground up for food and ceremonial purposes. Corn is an integral part of Hopi culture and spirituality. (Photo by David Wallace)

Climate-Driven Drought Is Stressing the Hopi Tribe’s Foods and Traditions

Most Hopi grow corn with only the precipitation that falls on their fields, but two decades of drought have some of them testing the waters of irrigation and hoping they can preserve other customs with their harvests.


A Young Oyster Farmer Carrying on the Family Business

Gaby Zlotkowsky on a boat holding a basket of oysters. (Photo credit: Capshore Photography)

Young Fishermen Are Struggling to Stay Afloat

Lucas Raymond holding a halibut. (Photo courtesy of the New England Young Fishermen's Alliance)

Young People Are Feeding the Effort to Unionize Food Service Workers

Starbucks employees and union organizers protest outside Starbucks headquarters in fall 2022. (Photo courtesy of Fern Potter)

This Young Climate Activist Has Her Hands in the Soil and Her Eyes on the Future

Young climate activist Ollie Perrault holding a chicken. (Photo courtesy of Ollie Perrault)