How Social Factors Affect Diabetes Prevalence Among U.S. Hispanic Subgroups

Early this month, Global Health Aging published an article about the dangers of type 2 diabetes among older Hispanics. The focus will now be on the prevalence of this disease among Hispanics including the impact of age, food habits, urbanization and length of stay in the U.S.

Photo Credit: lucianvenutian
                                                    Photo Credit: lucianvenutian

People of Latino and Hispanic descent are at a high risk of type 2 diabetes and related conditions. In the August 2014 issue of Diabetes Care, a study found that the risk varies a great deal among specific subgroups and even based on other factors like how long they have lived in the United States.

According to the study, the prevalence of diabetes (diagnosed and undiagnosed) among Hispanics and Latinos of all groups was 16.9 percent for men and women compared to 10.2 percent for non-Hispanic whites. Prevalence varied a great deal when looking at subgroups. For example, individuals of Mexican descent had the highest prevalence at 18.3 percent while those of South American descent had the lowest prevalence of 10.2 percent. People of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent had a diabetes prevalence of 18.1 percent and those of Central American descent had a rate of 17.7 percent. More than 13 percent of people with Cuban descent had diabetes. This shows a strong correlation between diabetes and people of Hispanic descent in the United States. Many factors are responsible for the diabetes prevalence including unhealthy eating habits.

In the United States, Houston makes a great case study because of the city’s makeup and close location to Mexico and the Deep South. David Napier of University College London (UCL) states that “People used food as not only a reinforcement of tradition and ritual but also as a way of connecting socially. You’ve moved here from somewhere else, it’s a way to reinforce your identity, it’s a real cultural asset to have, but in a biological sense it’s not the best thing.” Nutrition is complex when tackling diabetes or obesity in Hispanic subgroups. This is why a flexible and targeted approach about healthy eating is necessary for fighting these conditions. Ultimately, the goal is not to get rid of traditional foods, but to find ways to make those foods healthier or introduce better options.

Other factors contributing to the diabetes prevalence include age, urbanization and length of stay in the U.S. The study published by Diabetes Care stated that diabetes rates increased significantly with age to 50 percent among Hispanic and Latino women by the age of 70 and 44 percent for men between ages 70 and 74. The study also reported that the longer someone lived in the U.S., the more likely they were to develop type 2 diabetes. Moreover, urban areas of Venezuela, Chile and Argentina are experiencing rising diabetes rates partly to traffic, crowded living conditions, air pollution, and a more sedentary lifestyle, according to a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Type 2 diabetes is a serious global concern. Society needs to tackle the disease on all fronts because the consequences can be fatal. It is important to raise awareness of the complications and hope that medical professionals find new ways to reduce the burden of diabetes.

Sophie Okolo is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Global Health Aging.

Parul Patel, DPM is the lead physician of Infinity Foot and Ankle, a podiatry practice with three locations in Texas. She has more than 11 years of experience in podiatric medicine. Dr. Patel specializes in podiatric care such as diabetic podiatry, preventative care and surgical podiatry.

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