Ben Vereen to talk about his diabetes at Saturday health fair -

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"I'm Ben Vereen, the singer, dancer, actor. I'm athletic. I've been in the forefront. …If it can happen to me, it can happen to the guy next door," the Tony Award-winner says.

Don't bother putting challenges in Ben Vereen's way. He'll make you see them as opportunities.

The veteran actor, dancer and singer attributes much of his professional and personal success to an unrelenting passion to make the best of any situation.

It's what earned him a Tony Award in 1973 for the Broadway production of "Pippin." It's allowed him to continue a busy live performance schedule as he nears his 65th birthday. And he says it's what helps him live every day with Type 2 diabetes.

"I wasn't conscious of the fact that in my life I may have Type 2 diabetes. That was the furthest thing from my mind," says Vereen, who this week was named to Broadway's Theater Hall of Fame.

"And that's the rub. I'm Ben Vereen, the singer, dancer, actor. I'm athletic. I've been in the forefront. …If it can happen to me, it can happen to the guy next door."

An estimated 25.6 million Americans, or 11.3 percent of adults 20 and older, have diabetes, or the inability to regulate their body's blood sugar. African-Americans are particularly at risk; 4.9 million, or 18.7 percent, live with the chronic disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Vereen's diagnosis is surprising, as he has remained physically active, even after a serious car crash in 1992. But a diabetes-related blackout in 2007 landed him in the hospital. That Christmas Day, doctors told him he had Type 2 diabetes, which is often but not always linked to obesity.

"I think mine is the story of everyone who is unaware of what diabetes is and what the red flags are," he says. "When we go to our doctors and the doctor says to us that your blood sugar is a little high, we never think to ask them the question, 'How high?'"

Since then, Vereen has been fervent about sharing what he has learned about Type 2 diabetes: It can be managed and even reversed with proper attention to diet, exercise, medication and regular blood sugar monitoring. He'll speak about his experience Saturday at the Taking Care of Your Diabetes Conference at the Tampa Convention Center.

Discipline is the key to managing all aspects of your life including health, says Vereen who responded to his diagnosis by launching an education campaign called STAND, or Start Taking Action Now for Diabetes. Sanofi-aventis U.S sponsors the campaign, and is one of several pharmaceutical companies sponsoring Saturday's event.

Vereen admits to "slipping and sliding" with his diet and exercise over the years, thinking that his athletic skills as a dancer would keep him healthy. It's just human nature, he says.

"We take advantage of the gifts which our creator has given us," he says. "When we are at the peak of our game, we start to take advantage of it."

Now, he's diligent about watching his diet and encouraging his loved ones to the same. The payoff is that his diabetes is under control and he feels great.

"Here's the good news," he says. "When you do the right things, when you work in tandem with your doctors, when you exercise, when you make the right food choices, then you begin to live a better, more prosperous and healthier life."

30 Sep, 2011

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