By Brandy Barnes, Founder, DiabetesSisters
Being diagnosed with diabetes as a young woman in the early 1990s, I was astounded by the lack of services and resources available to women like me. Facing a new and complex diagnosis as a teenager, I experienced firsthand the obstacles associated with diabetes. Through my experiences, I recognized the heightened difficulty that women with diabetes face, as well as the sheer absence of valuable resources and support. This important realization led to the formation of DiabetesSisters, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve the health and quality of life of women with diabetes, and to advocate on their behalf.
During this National Women’s Health Week, I proudly stand behind its goal to empower women to make their health a priority. At DiabetesSisters, we also aim to do just that – through offering a range of education and support services, the organization helps women of all ages with diabetes to live healthier, fuller lives.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diabetes currently affects 29.1 million people in the United States, 13.4 million of which are women. Globally, diabetes is the ninth leading cause of death in women, accounting for 2.1 million deaths per year, according to the International Diabetes Federation. In 2013, there were an estimated 184 million women with diabetes in the world – a number expected to rise to 288 million by 2030.
Women with diabetes face unique challenges and health risks when compared to their male counterparts with diabetes and their female counterparts who do not have diabetes. Women with diabetes must plan childbearing carefully, being sure they keep blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible in order to protect both mother and baby. Additionally, for women who do not already have diabetes, pregnancy brings the risk of gestational diabetes where pregnant women experience high blood sugar levels. Not only do hormones have an effect on managing blood glucose levels – during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause – but women also face additional health risks such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, depression, eating disorders, and body image issues. For these reasons, women-specific resources are vital to the overall health, well-being, and longevity of women with diabetes.
When it comes to dealing with a chronic illness like diabetes, women tend to seek out ongoing peer support. DiabetesSisters believes all women with diabetes should have access to a healthy support system that includes peers with diabetes. This provides encouragement, empowerment, and education with the purpose of helping each woman reach her full potential in life. We at DiabetesSisters believe that an empowered, informed woman with diabetes is a healthy woman with diabetes.
If you or a woman you know has diabetes, I urge you to join the network and support other women living with diabetes. DiabetesSisters is hopeful for a future when women with diabetes talk freely about their disease; when the differences between women and men with diabetes are acknowledged, researched and understood; and when women with diabetes around the world declare their health a top priority.
About Brandy Barnes, Founder of DiabetesSisters
Brandy Barnes was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 15 and through her personal experiences, discovered that she wanted to help other women with the disease. She therefore founded DiabetesSisters in 2008, a place where women with diabetes could get answers and support.