African Americans and Diabetes

Why Are African Americans At Greater Risk For Diabetes?

National health surveys conducted in the past 35 years have demonstrated that diabetes does not affect every community in the same way. It is now clear African Americans are getting diabetes at an increasingly high rate. About 2.6 million African Americans or 11 percent of the African American community has diabetes and that 35-40% do not even know it. The rate of diabetes has reached near-epidemic levels in the African American community. It is important to know why this has happened and what can be done about it.

Why Are African American at Greater Risk for Diabetes?

Genetics

Researchers point to two reasons why diabetes is on the rise in the African American community. The first is based on the observation that “diabetes runs in families.” It seems there is a strong genetic factor in who gets diabetes. Scientists are now working on determining which genes cause diabetes. Some researchers believe that African Americans inherited a gene from their African ancestors that enabled Africans to adapt more effectively to “feast and famine” food cycles. With fewer such cycles, this gene developed for survival in a more uncertain environment may instead make the person more susceptible to developing Type 2 diabetes. Although conclusive findings are not yet available, genetic research is promising and may offer further insight into why the African American community is so at risk for diabetes.

Obesity

But genetics does not entirely account for the high rate of diabetes among African Americans. Researchers know that being overweight is a major risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. In addition to being overweight, it turns out the location of the excess weight also matters. Carrying excess weight above the waist is a stronger risk factor for Type 2 diabetes than carrying excess weight below the waist. Studies show that African Americans are more likely to carry their excess weight above their waist which increases their risk of diabetes.

Exercise

Like genetics, the rate of obesity in the African American community does not itself provide a sufficient reason why African Americans have higher rates of diabetes. Researchers have also identified a lack of exercise as one significant factor contributing to the high rates of diabetes in African Americans. It has been known for some time that people who participate in little or no exercise activity are at a greater risk for diabetes. A national survey indicates that 50% of African American men and 67% of African American women report they do not include exercise in their daily routines. The lack of exercise, along with genetic and obesity risk factors, may explain why the rate of diabetes in the African American community is so high.

Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston has recently received funding from Therasense, a manufacturer of blood glucose monitoring systems, to begin a diabetes awareness campaign targeting African Americans. “Research shows that people who are at risk for diabetes can actually reduce their likelihood of developing the disease by nearly 60% through a program of sustained weight loss, and exercising for about 30 minutes every day,” adds Alan Moses, M.D., chief medical officer at Joslin. “Our goal is to help African Americans in avoiding diabetes if possible, and to get the care and education they need to prevent complications if they develop the disease.” Public health officials also argue that responding to the problem requires an increased awareness among African Americans as to how to delay or prevent diabetes through diet and exercise.

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Constance Brown-Riggs, MSEd, RD, CDE, CDN—an award-winning RD, certified diabetes educator, and past national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is the author of The African American Guide to Living Well With Diabetes, which received the Favorably Reviewed designation from the American Association of Diabetes Educators, and Eating Soulfully and Healthfully with Diabetes.

Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN is a nutrition communications specialist, registered dietitian in private practice, social media consultant, speaker, spokesperson and corporate consultant. She is currently the owner of Nutrition Starring YOU, LLC and www.NutritionStarringYOU.com. Lauren strongly believes that we should “Think Healthy, not Skinny”, and “EveryBODY is unique, your diet should be too”. Lauren was co-host of the Family Food Experts Kitchen radio show, available for listening on iHeart Radio and iTunes. Also known as one of the “NutritionBabes”, Lauren co-founded NutritionBabes.com, a popular Health and Wellness website in 2009. NutritionBabes.com was voted one of Healthline’s Top 100 Health Blogs in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Maureen Sullivan – RN, CDE has worked for many years as a Registered Nurse, most of them in emergency and trauma services. She is a Certified Emergency Nurse, Certified Diabetes Educator, and the former manager of a hospital stroke program. Maureen’s wealth of knowledge, passion for nursing and education, and ability to engage people makes her an excellent teacher and a captivating lecturer. Recently, Maureen has been concentrating on writing, speaking and teaching, as well as working on her award-winning weekly podcast, “The Health and Humor Show.”

Rebecca Bitzer – MS, RD/LD, CEDRD is an award-winning Registered Dietitian, writer, speaker, blogger, and REBEL Dietitian business owner. Rebecca and her team of six Registered Dietitians have counseled thousands of clients struggling with diabetes for over twenty-five years. They work closely with each other along with internists, endocrinologists, therapists, and families.

Dr. Lori Shemek, PhD, CNC, CLC, the best-selling author of “Fire-Up Your Fat Burn! and leading health and weight loss expert, is also known as “The Inflammation Terminator.” She has made it her mission to educate the public on the toxic effects of certain foods and lifestyle choices and how they create inflammation in the body. She is a leading authority on inflammation and its role in weight loss, preventing disease and optimizing health.

OmnichannelHealth Media, publisher of DiabetesDigest.com, does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. See additional information.