The news for the residents of Philadelphia is not great when it comes to diabetes. Between 2002-2010, diabetes rates in the most impoverished neighborhoods of the City of Brotherly Love skyrocketed to an unprecedented percentage of population. So much so in fact, that Philadelphia now holds the not-so-wonderful title of largest city in the U.S. with the highest per capita diabetes rate.
Health researchers at Philly’s Drexel University have been studying new ways to pinpoint who is most at risk for diabetes and its most common side effect, heart disease. “Just having diabetes actually increases your risk for heart disease almost as if you’ve had a heart attack already, that’s how profound an effect it is,” said Internist Ana Núñez, a lead member of the Drexel team studying health disparities related to cardiovascular disease.
The map below shows the increase in diabetes rates by zip codes in Philadelphia. The red areas of the map represent diabetes density in the neighborhoods as high as 20.41% of the population, tan as high as 13.97 %, green as high as 10.62%, and blue as high as 7.11%. Even with the most cursory glance at the map, it’s easy to see the increase – for instance, note the lack of blue in 2008-2010 (right), compared to 2002-2004 (left). The red zones also happen to be the most underprivileged neighborhoods in the city.
Part of the work at Drexel’s School of Public Health has focused on the health consequences of living in disadvantaged neighborhoods. No one can ignore the glut of fast food restaurants in these neighborhoods, but the diabetes problem runs much deeper and is more complicated than that. It’s partly education, partly cultural, and partly a lack of resources.
“If you are person with diabetes, and you have to store insulin, it has to be in a refrigerator, and there are places in Philadelphia where residents don’t have resources for a refrigerator. But are you going to say at your doctor’s visit as you get your refill, ‘I don’t have a refrigerator?” Núñez said. She is also studying residents of these neighborhoods who manage to maintain good health and exercise regularly “based upon either family support, headset, motivation, or resources.”
The benefit of this information? It may be useful for policy leaders – both at the municipal, state, federal, and NGO levels – to invest in these regions to discover ways to bring down the diabetes rate and improve health overall.