It’s no secret that Type 2 diabetes has achieved epidemic status in the United States. But we’re not alone – recently it was reported that China’s diabetes rate is now the highest in the world, and it’s also gaining ground quickly in other countries. But regardless of where you live, your ethnicity may play a role in your susceptibility to the disease.
In a healthy person, blood sugar levels fluctuate, depending on what you eat, if you exercise, and a number of other factors. Your blood sugar is kept in check by the hormone insulin, which is produced by the pancreas. Insulin regulates the flow of blood sugar into your cells, where it’s burned for energy. In a person with Type 2 diabetes, insulin no longer controls blood sugar adequately.
According to Enrique Caballero, MD, director of the Latino Diabetes Initiative at the Joslin Diabetes Center, Type 2 Diabetes is much more common among Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders than among Caucasians. Why this is so is still somewhat of a mystery, but research points to heredity, and more specifically to genes that affect insulin function.
African Americans and Native Americans at highest risk for Type 2 diabetes
Among those Americans over 20 years of age, 7.1 percent of non-Hispanic whites have been diagnosed with diabetes. In ethnic populations, that percentage increases to 8.4 percent of Asians, 11.8 percent of Hispanics/Latinos, 12.6 percent of non-Hispanic blacks, and 16.1 percent of Native Americans. Remarkably, members of these minorities who eat an unhealthy diet are more likely to get the disease than whites who eat the same unhealthy diet.
The secondary effects of Type 2 diabetes are also out of proportion for minorities. African Americans are 50% more likely to develop blindness caused by diabetes, are 5 times as likely to develop kidney disease, and are nearly 3 times as likely to suffer a lower limb amputation.
Research points to a gene that regulates insulin differently. According to the ADA, in several studies, Blacks, Asians, and Mexican Americans were found to be less insulin-sensitive than non-Hispanic whites (insulin sensitivity is the body’s ability to respond to glucose). This suggests that these minorities may be genetically programmed to utilize glucose less effectively than whites. When this genetic predisposition is combined with the American high carb, high fat diet, and a sedentary lifestyle, the risk of contracting type 2 diabetes skyrockets.
Steps to reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes
Regardless of your ethnic background, dietary and lifestyle changes are the proven, most effective ways to reduce your chances of contracting Type 2 diabetes. They’re also a significant part of your blood sugar control program if you have been diagnosed.
- Replace high fat meals with low fat meals. Choose olive oil over butter, vegetable oil over lard
- Reduce the amount of sugar in your diet, especially sodas and other sugary drinks
- Reduce carbohydrates – ditch the potato chips
- Increase fresh fruits and vegetables – eat carrots and apples for snacks, not corn chips or cookies
- Increase whole grains – swap white bread for whole wheat, and white rice for brown rice
- If you’re overweight or obese, start a weight management program
- Exercise daily. If you’re out of shape, begin by walking as far as you can, and increase your workout a little bit every day.
If you’re overweight or obese, but haven’t been diagnosed with diabetes, you’re still at high risk, regardless of your ethnicity. If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes or prediabetes, take the advice of your medical team about how to get your blood sugar under control.