DEAR JIM: My husband, 73, was recently diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, and his doctor put him on a weight loss regimen and recommended that he start exercising. The problem is, he won’t do either of them. He continues to eat whatever he wants and won’t lift a finger to exercise except for pressing the remote to change stations on the TV. He retired several years ago after a successful career as a “self-made” man in the construction industry. He dropped out of school after the 9th grade and still brags that he made more money than all high school classmates who wasted their time in college. He thinks he knows it all. What can I tell him to make him realize that he should take this seriously? ALARMED IN ATLANTA
DEAR ALARMED: Diabetes is, indeed, a serious disease with serious consequences if it is not managed properly. It sounds like he has always been a pretty smart, hard-working guy, so you might try appealing to his ego – and his lack of a college degree.
A new study by researchers at the University of Kansas found that “essentially those with a college degree or more education benefit more from the positive health behavior of physical activity than other groups,” according to Kyle Chapman, doctoral candidate in sociology.
Physically active adults with a college degree were less likely to have pre-diabetic symptoms or high glucose levels than inactive college-educated adults. Those with some college, or only a high school diploma like your husband, fared worse. In other words, physical activity and a healthy diet don’t seem to work as well for those who don’t graduate from college.
For the most part, physical activity reduced the possibility that people would develop diabetes in the first place, but the probability of having diabetes was lowest among physically-active people with a college degree compared to those with only a high school degree (or no high school diploma) by two to one – more if the latter were inactive.
“Education has been shown to affect people’s behavior on multiple levels. Not only does it give you the capacity to think critically, but once you’re in a different education level, there’s sort of a different culture around the people that you associate with,” said Chapman. “There are different standards of doing things and things are encouraged or discouraged.”
The study does not say how to resolve the differences in behavior, but it would seem that someone as disciplined as your husband was before he retired could see the logic in following his doctor’s advice. Perhaps you can find a way to refer him to the study to “shame” into doing the right thing by trying to prove that he is just as good as someone with a college degree – or better – when it comes to managing his diabetes. It’s really about educating himself and acting accordingly. After all, he’s a smart guy and already has a degree from the “School of hard Knocks.”
The study – Diabetes Disparities by Education and Activity Level – will be presented at the American Sociological Association Annual Meeting in Chicago on Monday, August 24.