We’re About to Start Seeing More Early Deaths from Diabetes

Hip-hop pioneer Phife Dawg died this week at the age of 45, from complications of diabetes. His early death is a harbinger of tragedies to come.

Photo by Rodrigo Vaz via Getty

A Tribe Called Quest's Malik Taylor, aka Phife Dawg, died on Wednesday at age 45 from complications of diabetes. Phife was known for being a pioneer of hip-hop, and, to a much lesser extent, as having a sweet tooth. (A few bars into the 1991 track "Buggin Out," he notes, I drink a lot of soda so they call me Dr. Pepper.) Taylor was diagnosed with the disease in 1991, at the age of 20.

A 20-year-old diagnosed with diabetes was once exceedingly rare—the disease was called "adult-onset" diabetes for a reason. But increasingly children and young adults are being diagnosed in alarming numbers. The rise was noted with concern back in 2000, when the American Diabetes Association published a consensus statement on the subject. A 2014 study found that the prevalence of type 2 diabetes among ten to 19-year-olds rose 30 percent between 2001 and 2009. By 2012, fully one half of the entire US adult population had either diabetes or pre-diabetes.

There's a common perception that people who have diabetes can just take meds and live a normal life. A growing industry normalizes the disease with lotions, supplements, medications, magazines, and food and drinks that cater to a diabetic population. But as Taylor's death illustrates, diabetes is not something to take lightly, and this is especially true for those diagnosed young, since living with the disease for longer can lead to worse outcomes. Complications include blindness, end-stage kidney failure, stroke, and numbness in the extremities—which means wounds go unnoticed, get infected, and can result in amputations. Taylor was so sick that in 2008 he required a kidney transplant from his wife, Deisha Taylor.

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