Despite the many laudable achievements of African Americans in the United States, and the part we played, and continue to play, in shaping this culture, there remain stark disparities in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes between us and other ethnic groups. This article looks at possible reasons why African Americans continue to suffer and die disproportionately from this preventable illness.
The good news according to Medical News Today is that diabetes has decreased in this decade, but African American adults still make up the largest group of newly diagnosed cases. The US Department of Health and Human Services gives the following statistics:
- In 2018, non-Hispanic blacks were twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to die from diabetes.
- African American adults are 60 percent more likely than non-Hispanic white adults to be diagnosed with diabetes by a physician.
- In 2017, non-Hispanic blacks were 3.2 times more likely to be diagnosed with end stage renal disease as compared to non-Hispanic whites.
- In 2017, non-Hispanic blacks were 2.3 times more likely to be hospitalized for lower limb amputations as compared to non-Hispanic whites.
These grim figures lead us to ask why such great disparities exist between non-Hispanic blacks and non-Hispanic whites. While high blood pressure, obesity, and genetics are common diabetes risk factors among African Americans, these are considered modifiable — they can be controlled by making simple lifestyle changes — other factors, such as socioeconomic and systemic barriers often stand in the way.
Medical News Today lists some of these socioeconomic and systemic barriers:
Regular health checkups – The wealth gap between black households and white is a staggering $125.000, with $24,100 for black households and $189,100 for white. Health care costs can be prohibitive and African Americans, with their poor earning power, are more likely to not have health insurance and if they do have, it may be inadequate for their needs. Residential segregation may also prevent African Americans’ access to quality healthcare. Their neighborhoods may be poorly equipped with health centers and/or properly trained health professionals.
Stress – Experiencing a high level of stress is a major contributor to the development of diabetes. Many African American people have a higher level of cortisol — the stress hormone — and this can affect their blood sugar. Cortisol can lead to increased energy which gives rise to increased appetite, and cravings for sweet, salty, and fatty foods, all of which can lead to weight gain — another risk factor for diabetes.
Food – Because of their lower economic status, most African Americans are unable to afford healthy food and therefore tend to rely on fast food and junk food which are loaded with calories that lead to weight gain. This contributes to poor cardiovascular health.
Exercise – Living in poorer, unsafe neighborhoods may make it difficult for some African Americans to get out and exercise. Also, they may live in areas where they don’t have close access to supermarkets and groceries. When a mass shooting took place in a supermarket in Buffalo last year, it was revealed that that supermarket was the only one for several miles around.
As we celebrate Black History Month, let us focus on the present status of African Americans in the United States and why type 2 diabetes remains not just a part of our history but part of our present reality. More education is needed to help reduce the prevalence of diabetes — a controllable disease — among African Americans and give them a better quality of life.
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