Diabetes and African Americans

August 13, 2014

diabeteIn 1998, 2.3 million African American adults over 20 had diabetes. In other words, 10.8 percent of the African American population had diabetes. African American adults are about 1.7 times as likely to get diabetes as white adults, whose rate of diabetes was 7.8 percent of the population in 1998.
As the following graph shows, middle-aged and older adults are most commonly affected by diabetes. Within the middle-aged group, African Americans are more than three times as likely to have diabetes as white adults.
In addition, African American women are more likely than African American men to have diabetes. About one-third of total diabetes cases are undiagnosed among African Americans. This proportion is similar for other racial/ethnic groups in the United States.
Why does diabetes affect more African Americans than whites?
There are no definite answers as to why so many more African Americans have diabetes than whites. However, being overweight is a known cause of type 2 diabetes. Most African Americans with diabetes have type 2, which develops in adulthood and requires treatment with some combination of exercise, proper diet, medication and injected insulin. African Americans, and especially African American women, are more likely to be overweight than white Americans. African Americans are also more likely to carry their fat above the waist, which increases their risk of diabetes.
It appears that those who have type 2 diabetes might carry a diabetes gene that is passed down within families. Some researchers believe that African Americans inherited a “thrifty gene” from their African ancestors. Such a gene might have initially enabled Africans to use energy more efficiently when food was scarce. The theory is that today, without “feast and famine” cycles, the thrifty gene may make African Americans more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
Fewer African American children develop type 1 diabetes (also known as juvenile onset diabetes) than white children. In this case, genetics appears to be working favorably on the side of African Americans.
Be sure to look into testing for diabetes if you or a friend or relative are:
• Overweight, regardless of age,
• Do little in the way of physical activity, and
• Have diabetes in your family.
Some ways to help prevent type 2 diabetes, and the associated complications, include:
• Exercising
• Giving up cigarette smoking
• Reducing high cholesterol
• Reducing high blood pressure
• Keeping a healthy weight