Diabetes and Hispanic Americans: more than just genetics

Monday, June 27, 2005 by: Jessica Fraser
Tags: diabetes, hispanics, Hispanic-Americans

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Roughly 41.3 million people in the United States today are Hispanic. That breaks down to one in every seven people. Hispanic Americans represent the second-largest and fastest-growing minority group in the United States. And all of that growth comes with a staggering rate of diabetes.

According to the 2003 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, more than 1.5 million Hispanic Americans had diabetes, up from less than 1.2 million in 1997. As high as the rate of diabetes appears among Hispanics, it doesn't include undiagnosed cases.

Disease Prevention and Treatment by the Life Extension Foundation states that roughly 5.4 million people in the United States have diabetes and are unaware of it. "Minorities are at particular risk. Compared with Caucasians, blacks have a 60 percent higher risk of developing diabetes and Hispanics have a 90 percent increased risk." According to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC), Hispanics are 1.9 times more likely to have diabetes than whites.

Obesity is a major contributor to the onset of type 2 diabetes. According to the NDIC, minority ethnic groups in the United States that have high rates of obesity are on the rise, especially Hispanic Americans. The problem isn't just owing to the adults within those groups. Food Politics author Marion Nestle writes, "Obesity rates are rising among children and adolescents, especially those who are African-American or Hispanic. In the early 1990s, for example, 23 percent of white girls aged six to 11 were overweight, compared to 29 percent of Mexican-American girls … Pediatricians report seeing children with high levels of serum cholesterol, high blood pressure, and "adult" onset diabetes (type 2) at earlier and earlier ages -- all consequences of excessive caloric intake. Because obesity tends to persist into adulthood, this condition may well predispose overweight and obese children to cardiovascular and other chronic disease risks later in life."

The next generation of obese Hispanic-Americans is becoming diabetic progressively earlier. But these kids aren't becoming obese entirely of their own accord. Saturated Fat May Save Your Life author Bruce Fife writes, "Children with type 2 diabetes look a lot like their adult counterparts. Most are black or Hispanic, with a particularly high rate found among children of Mexican descent." The NDIC reports that Mexican Americans make up the largest percentage of the Hispanic population in the United States; they also represent the largest percentage of Hispanic Americans with diabetes. Although Mexican Americans seem even more disposed toward developing diabetes, all Hispanic Americans run a high risk.

Most people realize that a good way to avoid obesity is to exercise. Diet along with exercise is best, but exercise alone can help prevent obesity, a common trigger for type 2 diabetes. The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted from 1988-94 found that 65 percent of Mexican-American men and 74 percent of Mexican-American women reported that they participated in little or no leisure-time physical activity.

Lack of physical activity is an obvious factor contributing to the high rates of diabetes among Mexican Americans. How can someone avoid becoming overweight or obese if they never or only rarely exercise? While much blame for the high rates of diabetes is placed on genetics, even those statistics supportive of such an argument can be explained to a certain extent. Consider the children of obese, inactive Hispanic-American parents. The parents have passed along -- however unknowingly -- behaviors and eating habits that contribute to obesity. Why would their children be expected to lead a different, healthier, more active lifestyle unless they have an example to follow?

But why are Hispanics at such a high risk compared to the non-Hispanic population? Hispanics certainly aren’t the only Americans who suffer from obesity, which is a major factor in developing diabetes. A number of risk factors apart from obesity, such as genetics, can push the number of diabetes incidents higher. According to the NDIC, "The prevalence of diabetes among Mexican Americans who have first degree relatives (e.g., parents) with diabetes was twice as great as for those with no family history of diabetes."

Read the following story, then consider why family relationships play such an important role in either preventing or passing along diabetes. Dr. Robert H. Lebow, author of Health Care Meltdown, relates the story of a young Hispanic girl, Anna, who goes to the doctor with complaints of cramping abdominal pains and constipation. "She is 4'8" and weights 140 pounds. Her only physical activity occurs twice a week in her fifth grade physical education class. When at home, she watches 'lots' of TV. Her diet includes 'a lot' of candy and soda pop. A schoolmate, Marjorie, is nine years old, in fourth grade, and weighs 177 pounds. Her only exercise is two sessions of P.E. a week; she consumes 'munchies' and watches TV when she's at home. Her mother developed diabetes at a young age (35) and worries that Marjorie will, too."

Chances are, Marjorie will indeed become diabetic. She’s already obese, she gets little to no exercise and her diet is sorely lacking in nutrition. Unless Marjorie can change her lifestyle by eating healthy and exercising, she’ll likely grow up obese and pass her bad habits on to her future children, who in turn could easily develop the disease. Such a cycle continues on a much larger scale for Hispanic Americans than non-Hispanics.

According to Dr. Zorba Paster, author of The Longevity Code, the prevalence of diabetes in Hispanics is largely because of social injustices for minorities. “Racial minorities are disproportionately poor and undereducated, and according to the National Center for Health Statistics, the poor and undereducated die younger and suffer more health problems than people with higher wealth and education.” Paster says that non-whites in America live an average of five fewer years than whites, and diabetes is a major contributor to that statistic.

The answer to this situation appears to lie in education and in proper health care. Hispanic Americans must become knowledgeable of diabetes from several different angles: What the disease is, what it does to their bodies, how to prevent it and how to treat or reverse it if they already have it. Once that is accomplished, the burden lies on them to act on what they know in order to halt the escalating rate of Hispanics being diagnosed with diabetes.

The experts speak on Diabetes

Considering these startling numbers, an insightful internist recently commented that physicians are losing more patients to diabetes than they are diagnosing. Additionally, it is estimated that 5.4 million people have the disease and are not aware of it. Minorities are at particular risk. Compared with Caucasians, blacks have a 60% higher risk of developing diabetes and Hispanics have a 90% increased risk.
Disease Prevention And Treatment by Life Extension Foundation, page 652

Especially in the Mexican American community — childhood diabetes rates were soaring. So were the rates for a wide variety of other weight-related diseases, among them coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, bone disease, and a wide range of endocrine and metabolic disorders. The Spanish-language standard-bearer La Opinion often blares: diabetes, epidemia en Latinos!
Fat Land by Greg Critser, page 75 African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans are at a significantly higher risk for diabetes than non-Hispanic whites, a statistic that presumably has a close relationship to their higher rates of obesity, although there may be a genetic component as well.
Dr Atkins New Diet Revolution by Robert C Atkins MD, page 275

Diabetes occurs at a rate of 16 to 26 percent in both Hispanic and black Americans aged 45 to 74, compared to 12 percent in non-Hispanic whites of the same age.
Fat Land by Greg Critser, page 10

Obesity rates are rising rapidly among children and adolescents, especially those who are African-American or Hispanic. In the early 1990s, for example, 23% of white girls aged 6-11 were overweight, compared to 29 % of Mexican-American girls and 31% of black girls. Pediatricians report seeing children with high levels of serum cholesterol, high blood pressure, and "adult"-onset diabetes at earlier and earlier ages—all consequences of excessive caloric intake. Because obesity tends to persist into adulthood, this condition may well predispose overweight and obese children to cardiovascular and other chronic disease risks later in life.
Food Politics by Marion Nestle, page 175

In addition to these two main types of diabetes, another common form is gestational diabetes. This condition occurs in 2 to 5 percent of all pregnancies, but it usually disappears when the pregnancy is over. Women at increased risk of gestational diabetes include those who are overweight, who have a family history of diabetes, and who are African American, Hispanic or Latino American, or Native American.
Healing Moves by Carol Krucoff and Mitchell Krucoff MD, page 56

Type 2 diabetes disproportionately afflicts nonwhites, with rates about two times as high in American blacks, two to three times as high in American Hispanics, and five to six times as high in American Indians as it is in American whites.
Permanent Remissions by Robert Haas MS, page 146

Risk factors for developing type-2 diabetes include diet, weight, race, age, lack of exercise, and heredity. It is much more common among Latinos, American Indians, African-Americans, and American-Asians than Caucasians. In fact, over the last thirty years, the number of African-Americans diagnosed with diabetes has tripled.
Prescription For Nutritional Healing by Phyllis A Balch CNC and James F Balch MD, page 321

Children with Type 2 diabetes look a lot like their adult counterparts. Most are black or Hispanic, with a particularly high rate found among children of Mexican decent. Most of the Type 2 children have close relatives with the disease, and almost all are obese.
Saturated Fat May Save Your Life by Bruce Fife ND, page 52

The high incidence of diabetes among certain minority groups also supports the genetic connection. African Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, some Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans all get diabetes more often than Caucasians. Native Americans have the highest rate of diabetes in the world, and Mexican Americans, who share genes with Native Americans, have higher rates than Cuban Americans, among whom less intercultural breeding has occurred.
The diabetes Cure by Vern S Cherewatenko MD and Paul Perry, page 194

Race. In the United States, nonwhites can be expected to live an average of five fewer years than whites. Differences in susceptibility to life-shortening conditions bear much of the blame. African-Americans, for example, are more likely to become infected with HIV and tuberculosis. They are more likely to have hypertension, strokes, and prostate cancer. Diabetes appears at higher rates in Native Americans and Hispanics. Racial minorities are disproportionately poor and undereducated, and according to the National Center for Health Statistics, the poor and undereducated die younger and suffer more health problems than people with higher wealth and education.
The Longevity Code By Zorba Paster MD, page 63

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