Addressing the Diabetes Epidemic in the USVI: A Call for Urgent Action



At a recent meeting convened by the Committee on Health, Hospitals, and Human Services, the growing epidemic of diabetes within the U.S. Virgin Islands was thrust into the spotlight, revealing a critical need for immediate public health interventions. Julia Sheen, the executive director of the Virgin Islands Diabetes Center of Excellence (VIDCOE), delivered alarming statistics, positioning diabetes as the sixth leading cause of death in the territory, with over 12,000 residents currently afflicted.

Sheen highlighted lifestyle factors such as insufficient exercise and poor dietary habits as key contributors to the territory’s diabetes rates. Although women are predominantly represented in these statistics, Sheen suggests this may mask an underreporting issue among men. A notable gap in data concerning diabetic children in the USVI prompted questions from Senator Diane Capehart, to which Sheen admitted the absence of comprehensive data on youth, emphasizing a significant blind spot in the territory’s public health strategy.

The absence of specific data notwithstanding, Sheen underscored the urgent need for targeted educational programs aimed at children, particularly those overweight or obese, to curb the onset of diabetes. In support of this preventive approach, Senator Milton Potter relayed a citizen’s proposal for screening all fourth graders for prediabetic conditions, subject to parental consent and available funding.

The discussion also turned to the scarcity of public facilities conducive to exercise, a crucial preventive measure against diabetes. Senator Kenneth Gittens critiqued the reliance on private sector support for creating walkable spaces, instead advocating for government-led initiatives to improve and maintain public recreational facilities. He lamented the demolition of Arthur A Richards Junior High School, which had provided a range of recreational resources to the community, and emphasized the importance of accessible, well-maintained sidewalks to support a healthy lifestyle.

The committee unanimously recognized the need for a collaborative approach to combating diabetes, involving multiple government departments, including Education and Human Services. The financial strain of diabetes management, costing the territory approximately $120 million annually, underscores the urgency of these interventions. This collective resolve marks a pivotal step toward addressing the diabetes crisis in the USVI, aiming to safeguard the health and wellbeing of its citizens through comprehensive public health strategies and infrastructure improvements.

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