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EXCLUSIVE: Randy Jackson on Why He's Dedicating Himself to Diabetes Awareness

The Idol judge is on a mission to raise awareness about diabetes.
GRAMMY Award-winning music producer and American Idol judge Randy Jackson was 350 pounds and severely out of shape when he got some shocking news back in 2003: He had Type 2 diabetes. “I didn’t even know I had it until I wound up in the emergency room,” he says.

Nine years later Jackson has lowered his weight significantly and has adopted a healthier lifestyle. He recently partnered with Merck on the Taking Diabetes to Heart program to promote awareness about the disease.

Jackson spoke with ESSENCE.com about living with diabetes, eating healthier (even when visiting New Orleans) and why the African-American community is most affected.

ESSENCE.com: Your family had a history of diabetes, but you never imagined getting it.
RANDY JACKSON: My dad had it but I thought, ‘Nah, that’ll never happen to me.”

ESSENCE.com: What do you think are the greatest misconceptions about diabetes?
JACKSON: I think the misconception is that there is a cure. You have it for the rest of your life, and there is no cure. I also think there’s not enough information out there readily at hand.

ESSENCE.com: Misconception or truth: Anyone who likes a lot of sugar is prone to getting diabetes.
JACKSON: That, or you like carbohydrates. They they turn into sugar too. It’s just obsessive eating of any kind. I was 350 pounds when I was diagnosed. Anybody at that high level of weight has to really check for it. You can never be too sure. I was one that never went to the doctor — I only went every two years or when something was wrong.

ESSENCE.com: What advice do you have for anyone who’s feeling like they’re in danger?
JACKSON: I stress just move, man. If you don’t have the money, don’t join a gym, just start walking. Fortunately our food is amazingly talented in the African American community, but unfortunately it’s got a ton of butter and sugar on vetting. I want to stress it so hard because these are my people, dude, and I’ve got diabetes.

ESSENCE.com: What does living with diabetes mean for you?
JACKSON: It means being very conscious about what I’m putting into my body and how much I move and the stress of my lifestyle.

ESSENCE.com: How has it affected your diet?
JACKSON: I can’t eat like I used to eat growing up. I was just in New Orleans, and I went out to dinner a few times. I was like, ‘Yo man I can’t eat down here. Everything is fried. I just can’t go back to that.’

ESSENCE.com: You recently partnered with Merck on the Taking Diabetes to Heart program.
JACKSON: Yeah, I’ve been looking for partners for some time to help me get the message out about diabetes awareness. I joined the Take Diabetes to Heart campaign because its a great awareness vehicle with great tips about eating, dieting. People with Type 2 diabetes are two to four times at higher risk of developing heart disease and stroke. It’s a serious disease with no cure. I stress about getting together with your doctor about finding the right treatment plan. You’ve got to know your ABC’s about diabetes.

My African-American Latino and Native American communities are most affected. That sedentary lifestyle and bad diet that I grew up with in the lovely South helped to contribute to what I have going on now.

ESSENCE.com: How are you making sure your children are healthier?
JACKSON: We have a very eating campaign going on in the house because I want to help them as well. Since I had, my dad had it so its there somewhere in the genes so we have to definitely be healthy. I want them to be healthy.

Click here to get healthy eating tips and learn more about Type 2 diabetes.