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Diabetes called an epidemic among Blacks

Cynthia E. Griffin- | 11/16/2011, 5 p.m.

November is American Diabetes Month, and Our Weekly will feature a series of articles exploring the who, what and what-can-you-do of the disease.
When health disparities are mentioned, African Americans typically find themselves at the bottom. When it comes to one disease, unfortunately, Black folk are over the top. In fact, some researchers are now saying that it has reached epidemic rates within the African American community.

That disease is diabetes.

Research has found that compared to the general public African Americans are 1.8 percent more likely to have the disease than non-Hispanic Whites.

Additionally, 18.7 percent or 4.9 million Blacks age 20 and older have diagnosed or undiagnosed diabetes; 25 percent of African Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 have diabetes; and 1 in 4 African American women over 55 years of age has diabetes.

And despite increased awareness, the rate of African Americans with this disease is increasing. In 1992, for example, according to the website netwellness.org, 10.8 percent of Blacks 20 and older had diabetes. That figure has jumped 8 percent.

However, researchers are not sure why Blacks are more susceptible to the disease than other populations.

According to articles on Diabetesdigest.com, there is a strong genetic factor in who gets diabetes.

Some researchers believe that Blacks inherited a gene from their African ancestors that enabled them to adopt more effectively to "feast and famine" food cycles. But with few such cycles in contemporary living, this survival gene may instead make the person more susceptible to developing type 2 diabetes.

Obesity is another factor that plays into the rate of diabetes development. Additionally, the location of the excess weight also matters. Researchers have found that carrying excess weight above the waist is a stronger risk factor for type 2 diabetes, and studies show that African Americans are more likely to carry their extra weight above the waist.

Lack of exercises has also been identified as one significant factor contributing to the high rates of diabetes in African Americans. People who participate in little or no physical activity are at great risk for diabetes. A national study found that 50 percent of African American men and 67 percent of Black women report they do not include exercise in their daily routines.

A new study by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and published in the New England Journal of Medicine in October also pinpointed a link between poverty and higher levels of obesity and diabetes.

In "Neighborhoods, Obesity and Diabetes--A Randomized Social Experiment" about 4,500 very low income families living in housing projects in high-poverty neighborhoods in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, were given the opportunity through housing vouchers to move to low-poverty communities.

Among the results was the surprising fact that women who moved to low-poverty areas were nearly one-fifth less likely to be extremely obese.

Additionally, for the women able to move to wealthier communities, the prevalence rate for diabetes was 5.2 percent lower; again making these women one-fifth less likely to have diabetes.