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Actress and Dance Legend Debbie Allen Reveals Prediabetes Diagnosis to Combat Chronic Kidney Disease

Published: 2/9/21
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By Michael Howerton and Matthew Garza

Chronic kidney disease is a serious condition that will affect almost 40% of people with diabetes. Actress and dance icon Debbie Allen is partnering with the National Kidney Foundation to raise awareness about this condition, encourage people to be proactive about their health, and prevent diabetes-related health complications.

Beloved dance icon and award-winning actress Debbie Allen is going public about her recent diagnosis with prediabetes to bring greater attention to the life-threatening condition of chronic kidney disease (CKD). 

One in three people in the U.S. are at risk for developing CKD – and one in three adults with diabetes may already have it. While the condition affects 37 million people in the US and can lead to kidney failure, those with diabetes and prediabetes are at an even greater risk for developing this serious health complication. Allen is teaming up with the National Kidney Foundation and Bayer for the “Are You the 33%?” campaign, to push awareness and promote early screening for this serious health condition. Could you be at risk for kidney disease? Take this one-minute risk assessment quiz to find out. 

As part of the effort to share her story with those who can most benefit from it, Allen, 71, talked with diaTribe about her diagnosis, her family history of diabetes, and her dedication to living and promoting a healthy lifestyle. Though her prediabetes diagnosis didn’t come as a shock given her family’s history of diabetes, she says, “It was a flag; it told me that I needed to really pay attention and get my ducks in order with my own understanding about what I need to do to stay healthy.”

Allen told diaTribe, “Too many people don’t know that living with type 2 diabetes can lead to chronic kidney disease and other life-threatening complications.” But there are ways to be proactive to avoid these risks. After joining the “Are You the 33%” campaign, Allen learned about two tests that your healthcare professional can give you to check your kidney function: a urine test called uACR (urine albumin-to-creatine ratio) and a blood test for creatine, a waste product that is typically filtered out of your blood by your kidneys, to calculates your eGFR (estimated glomerular filtration rate). To learn more, read “Get to Know Your Lab Tests: A1C, eGFR, uACR, and More.”

According to Dr. Joseph Vassalotti, Chief Medical Officer of the National Kidney Foundation, “The blood test [eGFR] is a test of kidney function, while the urine test [uACR] is a test of kidney damage.” Dr. Vassalotti emphasized that almost 40% of people with type 2 diabetes will develop CKD, so it is extremely important for people to work with their healthcare team to get these tests as soon as they are diagnosed with diabetes, and at a minimum, at least once a year after that.

Dr. Vassalotti explained that the helpful one-minute risk assessment quiz “takes you through a number of questions to inform you of any conditions that may put you at risk for CKD, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, a family history of CKD, or obesity.” The “Are You the 33%?” campaign urges people, especially those with type 2 diabetes, to take this test (available in both English and Spanish), and ask their healthcare professional for UACR and eGFR tests. 

As an award-winning actress, director, producer and choreographer, Allen was recently named one of five recipients for the 2021 Kennedy Center Honors for lifetime achievement in the arts. Allen has long advocated and practiced living well and promoting health. She created the T2 Dance Crew, a national wellness program designed to help people living with T2 diabetes be more active, and for the past two decades has run the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, teaching dance to students ages four and up. Allen remarked that her father, who passed away of diabetes-related health complications, used to tell her, “Keep dancing and this may never happen to you.” So even at 71, Allen is still dancing and sharing the gift of dance with others as a way to stay healthy and inspire movement.

Diabetes and high blood pressure are responsible for up to two-thirds of all CKD cases, according to the National Kidney Foundation. The disease can strike anyone, but African Americans, Hispanics, Pacific Islanders, American Indians and seniors are especially at risk. Dr. Vassalotti stressed that, “People who are Black or African American are four times more likely, and Hispanic and Latinx people are 1.3 times more likely to develop kidney failure compared to white people.” The hope is that the voices of inspiring, well-known individuals like Allen can help to raise awareness, encourage early screening, and help prevent progression of kidney disease among people with or without diabetes.

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