Diabetes and Minorities: What Are the Risks?

What makes minorities more at risk for this disease? Researchers are trying to find the link, but nothing definite has been determined. While it’s important to figure out why minorities are prone to diabetes, the fact is diabetes is on the rise among African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders.

The risk to minorities

If you are a minority, you are more likely to develop diabetes than whites. The following statistics represent the incidence of diabetes among minorities in the United States for 2002:

  • Non-Hispanic blacks: 11.4% of all non-Hispanic blacks aged 20 or over have diabetes. African Americans are 1.6 times as likely to develop diabetes as whites of similar age.
  • Hispanic Americans: 8.2% of all Hispanic Americans aged 20 or over have diabetes. Hispanics are 1.5 times more likely to have diabetes than whites of similar age, and Mexican-Americans are over twice as likely to develop diabetes as whites.
  • Native Americans and Alaska natives: 14.9% of American Indians and Alaskan natives aged 20 or over who receive care from Indian Health Service have diabetes. It is most common in Native Americans from the Southeast region of the United States(27.8%) and southern Arizona (27.8%). American Indians and Alaska natives are 2.3 times likely to have diabetes as whites of similar age.
  • Asian Americans, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders: Native Hawaiians, Japanese and Filipino residents of Hawaii aged 20 years or older were two times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than white residents of Hawaii of a similar age.

The Western diet and obesity

As the minority population of United States grows, so do the reports of diabetes and chronic kidney disease. New immigrants also adopt a more Western diet when they settle into the United States, which seems to increase their chances for obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is a disease that affects the body’s ability to produce or use insulin. Type 2 diabetes is also known as adult-onset diabetes or non-insulin dependent diabetes.

The Western diet is high in processed and fast foods. Many processed foods have little nutritional value and often contain high amounts of fat and sodium. A study of obesity in China has linked the increased weight in children to the increased availability of fast food as well as a diet emphasizing more Western foods than traditional Eastern foods.

Obesity is a cause of insulin resistance, which can lead to Type 2 diabetes. Obesity is also linked to some ethnic groups. A University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study concluded that for unknown reasons, African American women become obese twice as fast as white women. The rate for Hispanic women is about midway between the two. Hispanic men become obese 2.5 times faster than white men, and after the age of 28, African American men became obese 2.2 times more rapidly than white men.

If minorities are more prone to being overweight, this makes them more at risk for Type 2 diabetes. Because diabetes is the leading cause of chronic kidney disease, minorities also have a greater risk of developing kidney disease.

What you can do if you have diabetes

Although science has yet to determine the exact cause of diabetes, research has shown that poor dietary habits and a sedentary lifestyle increase the risk of developing diabetes. Knowing you are at risk because of your ethnicity, family history or weight can lead to taking preventative steps or an early diagnosis and treatment.

  1. Control blood glucose levels, test your blood glucose as directed
  2. Control blood pressure levels, check your blood pressure as directed 
  3. Take all medicines as directed by your doctor
  4. Follow the diet and exercise plan your doctor recommends
  5. Talk with your doctor about yearly testing for kidney disease
  6. Learn all that you can about diabetes and kidney disease

If you would like to see a doctor who specializes in the care of kidneys, called a nephrologist, you can use DaVita's Find a kidney doctor tool to locate a nephrologist in your area.

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