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NJ Diabetes Awareness Day

by Kristie Gurley (JD ’15)

On Thursday, November 13, New Jersey celebrated Diabetes Awareness Day with events at the New Jersey State House. The day began with speakers highlighting the importance of government measures to address the diabetes epidemic in New Jersey. Melita Jordan, Director of Chronic Disease Prevention and Control Services of the New Jersey Department of Health, presented a proclamation from Governor Chris Christie declaring November 2014 as Diabetes Awareness Month. Similarly, Senate President Stephen Sweeney and General Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto presented a Joint Legislative Resolution recognizing November as National Diabetes Month. These events were followed by a networking and information event, where participating organizations set up tables throughout the State House hallways. The day concluded with a formal presentation of the Joint Legislative Resolution.

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As a continuing student in the Food Law & Policy Clinic, I was excited to see this event in relation to CHLPI’s previous work in New Jersey. In the spring semester, I had travelled down to help launch CHLPI’s Providing Access to Healthy Solutions (PATHS) report, which evaluated the type 2 diabetes landscape in New Jersey and made comprehensive recommendations for policy action. The 200-page report was intended to serve as a resource for diabetes advocates, and we hoped it would be the starting point of additional state action.

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At the Diabetes Awareness Day events, it was clear that the PATHS report had made an impact. The report was favorably remembered by many of the participants, and the recommendations even seemed to form the foundation of Melita Jordan’s remarks on needed policy actions. Allison Condra, the clinical fellow I travelled with who co-authored the New Jersey PATHS report, was sought-after by other attendees who wanted to discuss the report and share their subsequent state and advocacy efforts. As a student in the clinic, I even received several questions not only about the New Jersey report, but also our current efforts for the federal policy recommendations.

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As exciting as the day was, however, I left with some concerns. Following the morning’s speaker event, I had a conversation with a community health worker who told me what it was like on the ground. “All this stuff is well and good,” I remember her telling me, “but it’s not the problem. I’m dealing with people who can’t even pay for their test strips—awareness is not really the problem.” To me, the community health worker was pointing out a fundamental flaw in the Governor’s proclamation and the Senate and General Assembly resolution: awareness can only go so far in curbing the rise of diabetes. Environmental factors—including access to healthy food and ability to pay for needed medical services—seem to have a much more direct impact on the ability to prevent and treat diabetes. We can hope that raising awareness on Diabetes Awareness Day could serve not only to help individual New Jerseyans learn about symptoms of the disease and prevention techniques, but also to convince policy-makers to take action. It is the government action, rather than individual action, that will have the biggest impact on fighting the type 2 diabetes epidemic within the state.

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The views reflected in this blog are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Center for Health Law & Policy Innovation or Harvard Law School. This blog is solely informational in nature, and not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed and retained attorney in your state or country.

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