Beware: Law Enforcement Work Demands Could Contribute to Diabetes

Originally Published in:
The Clarion Ledger – Jackson, Miss.
Author: Shanderia K Posey
Date: Jul 27, 2010

Thirty-five years with the Jackson Police Department left Robert Graham with an unexpected health burden – Type 2 diabetes.

Graham, now a reserve officer and current president of the Hinds County Board of Supervisors, was also commander of the 911 Dispatch Center for 10 years while at the department.

That experience on both sides of the radio contributed to the onset of the chronic condition which affects millions of people in the nation.

Sitting in patrol cars for 10-12 hours, not exercising, eating fried foods and high-carb foods day and night and handling high-stress calls at a moment’s notice led to what Graham calls “the perfect storm” to cause Type 2 diabetes.

But what really weighs heavy on his mind is that other officers, or those in any type of emergency response career, may not admit to having a problem.

To address the issue, Graham is writing a book he plans to title Dispatching with Diabetes, The Perfect Storm.

“It’s nothing to play with. Don’t hide it. Come out of the closet. Nobody’s gonna think any worse of you,” Graham says. As officers, “We don’t want anyone to think that we are not in control.”

Dr. Wayne Woo, of the Diabetes & Endocrine Institute in Flowood, is familiar with officers’ battle with diabetes.

“Unfortunately, I manage a lot of police officers,” says Woo, who teaches an Eating on the Go class to his patients.

“It’s a matter of choices and some don’t want to make that choice.”

Some won’t take medications, and Woo knows one person who refuses to wear a prescribed insulin pump.

“It’s like they don’t want to own it,” Woo says.

Jackson Police Department Assistant Chief Lee Vance says he doesn’t know how many of the 430 officers in the department may have the condition, but, “The department encourages healthy living and things to promote wellness within our ranks.”

As for officers intentionally not revealing their diabetic status because of concern of appearing inferior, Vance says, “I’ve never heard that notion.”

But Graham says he knows it’s a valid concern because he lived it. “I did not want anyone to know. I didn’t let anyone know.” He’d purposely schedule appointments with his endocrinologist early in the morning or late in the evening to ensure no one saw him.

“I have a lot of good friends on the Highway Patrol, the sheriff’s office and everything, and I know they’re hiding it.”

Hinds County Sheriff Malcolm McMillin has lived with Type 2 diabetes for many years. He’s never felt inferior about revealing his status.

“That wouldn’t apply to me. I’ve got an ego as big as this building,” he said, laughing.

“I think that some people probably do think that that would be a sign of weakness. There probably are people who would be sensitive about it.”

McMillin, who has been sheriff 20 years and worked at JPD 14, does share Graham’s concerns about how the condition affects those in law enforcement. There are about 500 employees in the Sheriff’s Department.

He says “there’s no question” some officers start off their career healthy and the nature of the job ruins their health.

“I’ve lost officers as a result of diabetes complications, kidney disease, having to go on dialysis, amputations. Diabetes has had an impact on the department and officers individually.”

McMillin takes insulin twice daily, but admits to not checking his blood glucose like he should and not adhering to a proper diet.

“It takes discipline in order to control it. I manage. I could do a lot better,” he says.

Though officers train to be physically fit to join the police force, once their careers begin there’s no incentive to stay fit to meet certain standards for promotion.

“I’d like to see that change,” McMillin says. “I’d like to be required to have to do that same thing to give me a little incentive.”

To save the county and insurance company money, McMillin says a wellness program is needed.

According to Graham, such a program is on the way because the county has a new insurance carrier – Cigna – and a certain amount of money will go toward a wellness program and health fair.

But one program city employees and their families can immediately take advantage of is free fitness wellness classes held at the Jackson Police Department Training Academy Monday through Thursday.

Officer Caesar Hamilton is one of the instructors who teaches exercise and nutrition. He’s heard of programs in Chicago and New York that require officers to maintain fitness but that’s not the case at JPD.

New officers are excited in the beginning and like the way the uniform looks but after two or three years they slack off, Hamilton says.

But he does get calls from those frantic to lose weight after a bad report from a doctor. As for being an officer with diabetes, “You can keep it under control, even heart problems,” Hamilton says.

For the past year, Graham has been a model patient. He lost 30 pounds by eating from a 9-inch plate instead of a 15-inch one, and his wife only cooks one serving of food now, no seconds.

Graham is certain he had diabetes long before he was diagnosed five years ago. His mood was often irritable whenever he hadn’t eaten. He’d hurriedly leave crime scenes because his blood glucose was low, and he was using the restroom up to five times an hour.

“I thought it was part of the aging process. I thought it was because I drank a lot of water,” he says.

Four years after the diagnosis, he started feeling weird and went to his doctor. His glucose was 300.

He got serious about managing the condition and his blood sugar hasn’t been higher than 150. He works with the Diabetes Foundation of Mississippi to raise awareness.

Undiagnosed and uncontrolled diabetes can lead to blindness and other damage to eyes; numbness to legs; increase risk of heart attack, stroke and kidney failure.

But having the condition doesn’t mean a career in law enforcement is impossible.

“You can be a good officer or deputy sheriff or detention officer and have this disease and maintain and control this yourself,” McMillin says.

No one is saying release your medical history, says Graham, but just know it’s OK to tell others.

“It’s a condition you can live with. Nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not a death sentence.”

To comment on this story, call Shanderia K. Posey at (601) 961-7264.