Diabetes, African American community

Written by admin   // June 3, 2010   // 0 Comments

by Dr. Patricia McManus

President Black Health Coalition

Diabetes is one of the medical conditions that is very well known in our community.  An intergenerational disease, we can have great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, and children from the same family with diabetes or “sugar,” as it has been called.

We know of people who had sugar and have lost their legs, lost feelings in their arms and legs, suffered from visual impairment, lost function of their kidneys and have had hypertension, obesity and high cholesterol, for example.

Because it is so common in our community, we have become desensitized to the impact of conditions like this on the whole community. There are those who have lost jobs and are in poverty because of the effects of having diabetes, thus contributing to the community’s high poverty rate.

With this being said, it is time that we as a community take on this health condition.  We can do something about reducing the impact if we already have it or we can prevent some of the cases.  We all have family and friends who we want to live as long as possible and want to be as healthy as possible.

Definition of Diabetes – According to the National Diabetes Education Program, diabetes is a group of diseases marked by high levels of blood glucose resulting from defects in insulin production, insulin action or both.  Diabetes can lead to serious complications and premature death. There are two types of diabetes, Type 1 or Type 2. A staggering 3.7 million or 14.7% of all African Americans, ages twenty and older, suffer from diagnosed and undiagnosed diabetes, mostly Type 2.

Type 1 diabetes – (formerly called juvenile diabetes) results when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys its own insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.  People with Type 1 diabetes must have insulin delivered by injection or a pump.  Type 1 diabetes accounts for 5-10% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes – (formerly called adult-onset diabetes) occurs when the body does not make enough insulin or cannot use the insulin it makes effectively.  This form of diabetes usually develops in adults over the age of 40, but is becoming prevalent in younger age groups including children and adolescents.  Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90 to 95 of all diagnosed cases of diabetes.

BlackHealthCare.com provides this very important information: There are three categories of risk factors increase the chance of developing Type 2 diabetes in African Americans. They are: genetics, which includes inherited traits and group ancestry; medical risk factors including glucose tolerance, hyperinsulinemia and insulin resistance; and lifestyle risk factors, including physical activity.

Genetic Risk Factors

1. Inherited Trait – Researchers suggest that African Americans and recent African immigrants to America have inherited a “thrifty gene” from their African ancestors.

Years ago, this gene enabled Africans, during “feast and famine” cycles, to use food energy more efficiently when food was scarce. Today, with fewer “feast and famine” cycles, the thrifty gene that developed for survival may instead make weight control more difficult. This genetic predisposition, along with impaired glucose tolerance, often occurs together with the genetic tendency toward high blood pressure.

2. African America ancestry is also an important predictor of the development of diabetes.  To understand how rates of diabetes vary among African Americans, it is important to look at the historical origins of black people in America.

Genetic predisposition to diabetes is based, in part, on a person’s lineage.  The African American population formed from a genetic ad-mixture across African ethnic groups and with other racial groups, primarily European and North American Caucasian.

Medical Risk Factors

1. Impaired Glucose Tolerance (IGT) – People with IGT have higher-than-normal blood glucose levels but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. Some argue that IGT is actually an early stage of diabetes.

2. Hyperinsulineamia and Insulin Resistance- Higher-than-normal levels of fasting insulin are associated with increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. To date, insufficient information is available on the relationship between resistance and the development of type 2 diabetes in African Americans.

3. Obesity – Obesity is a major medical risk.  The NHANES National Study showed substantially higher rates of obesity in African Americans aged 20 to 74 who have diabetes, compared with those who did not have diabetes.  Some recent evidence shows that the degree to which obesity is a risk factor for diabetes may depend on the location of the excess weight. Truncal or upper body obesity is a greater risk factor compared to excess weight carried below the weight.

Lifestyle Risk Factors- Physical activity is a strong protective factor against Type 2 diabetes.  Researchers suspect that a lack of exercise is one factor contributing to the unusually high rates of diabetes in older African American women.

Well, you have been given a lot of information on diabetes, especially Type 2.  Many of the previous articles I have written give you all the information you need to do something about this.  Don’t just look away and say this does not concern me; you may have family members and friends who are struggling with this condition everyday.  You could also be next, if you have not taken steps to prevent it.

The important statement to make about diabetes is: we are all affected whether we have the condition or not.  This disease affects so many in our community; we must all get involved to encourage (not attack or criticize) and supply support for the efforts of those who are trying to do better.

Are you going to be an active supporter or a quiet complainer? Think about it.


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