You could be slowly dying and not know it. Your blood could be poisoned, yet you don’t have a clue. Then suddenly you need to be rushed to the hospital, but it’s too late. If only you had taken two simple tests that could have caught the disease before it became critical.
That’s what I was thinking as I listened to Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers, director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases talk about the “silent” killer. Rodgers described this scenario that is sadly real for too many African Americans who fail each year to get tested for kidney disease. “It’s really considered the silent disease,” Rodgers said, which is why the institute has partnered with African American churches to publicize the importance of getting tested early before it’s too late.
March is National Kidney Month. On March 3, sixty churches across the country are kicking off the month with ongoing National Kidney Sunday. In partnership with the Chi Eta Phi nursing sorority, the American Diabetes Association, the Institute provides free testing at churches along with a kidney disease toolkit of information to be used for group discussions or individuals. Information includes how to prevent kidney disease and how to treat it successfully. In its second year, The Institute expects this initiative to reach at least 55,000 church members, who will hopefully spread the word to family, friends, coworkers, and so on.
An estimated 26 million Americans suffer from kidney disease. It costs about $23 billion annually to treat late stage kidney disease, Rogers said. Hispanics, Native Americans and African Americans are the highest risk groups. Blacks are nearly four times as likely as Whites to develop kidney failure. Though about 13 percent of the U.S. population, African Americans represent 32 percent of kidney failure cases nationally. Rodgers said much of this has to do with the environment in which many blacks live. Blacks are disproportionately poor; as a result, they often have inferior access to quality health care and nutrition.
“If you’re living in an area where there is not readily access to fresh fruits, but rather fast food that has more soda, and sugar that’s a factor,” said Rogers, adding that the two leading causes of kidney disease are hypertension and diabetes.
The preventable culprit is obesity, which often triggers hypertension and diabetes, Rodgers said. Obesity is a national crisis, which is why First Lady Michelle Obama has initiated the Let’s Move Initative. taken it up as a cause. But why are blacks particularly plagued by obesity? The good doctor didn’t say it, but I will: Much of the black community’s various health and destructive behavior problems are rooted in our cultural practices. These practices have in large part been shaped by our response to racism and oppression. Living sicker and dying younger is a predictable outcome. For generations we have been killing ourselves without thinking. It’s a miracle that we have survived. The black church has been a life source, but it has also have aided and abetted our bad choices.
As I’ve previously written on Urban Faith, Sunday dinners at Big Momma’s house or in church fellowship halls have been killing us gradually. Salty meals that contain starch Mac & Cheese, greasy pork and ribs, and chicken wings fried in lard – washed down with sweet tea or red Kool-Aid that tastes like liquid Skittles – are actually toxic. They may taste heavenly, but they’re not nourishing our bodies no matter how religiously we say the grace before eating. We’ve institutionalized and romanticized soul food rituals to our demise. Caribbean and Afrocentric meals are often no better. We need to renew our minds when it comes to managing our health. The church can lead the way.
We can eat healthy soul food that tastes just as good but with healthier seasonings. We can adopt a Bible-based diet. We can reject processed fast foods that are high in sugar and salt or eat them sparingly. We can eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and drink plain water. We can get our bodies moving. If we can’t exercise at a gym for at least 30 minutes a day three times per week, we can get out and walk every day. We can transform poor health in the community by renewing our minds in order to break our destructive eating patterns.
The kidneys are the body’s trash filter. When the kidneys fail the garbage piles up and starts poisoning the body. Rodgers said kidney disease can be found with simple blood and urine tests. For example, protein in the urine could mean kidney disease. If you catch the problem early enough, however, disaster can be averted.
Don’t let death sneak up on you. Get tested. Get your church involved. The life you save may be your own.