Ethnic Groups and Type Diabetes

Various ethnic groups in the United States have different rates of diabetes, mainly due to cultural, societal, and environmental reasons. Genetics had also been thought to play a large role, but a recent study by Australian and U.S. researchers seems to have changed that belief.

"When it comes to diabetes, we're finding that genes are no more important for ethnic minorities than for anyone else," said Stephanie Fullerton, a population geneticist and bioethicist at the University of Washington and coauthor of the study. Factors such as poor diet, housing segregation, and poverty were stronger indicators of the disease than genetic inheritance.

According to the Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program:

• Native Americans have the highest rates of diabetes not only in this country but in the world. This means that the disease and its complications are major causes of death and health problems for them. Amputations, a complication of diabetes, are three to four times higher in Native Americans than in other ethnic groups.

• African Americans are 1.7 times more likely to have diabetes than whites. One-third of the 2.3 million African Americans who have diabetes do not know it, which means they are already beginning to suffer from its complications without treatment.

• Latinos/Hispanic people have twice the rate of type 2 diabetes as whites, with 1.2 million of them having the disease. About 24 percent of Mexican Americans in the United States have type 2 diabetes.

Quoted in "No Sign That Ethnic Groups' Genes Cause Diabetes," ScienceDaily, April 16, 2007. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070416132455.htm.

Because their bodies do not make enough natural insulin, people with type 1 diabetes manage their blood glucose levels by injecting the hormone several times a day.

People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin shots several times each day to replace the natural insulin their bodies are no longer making. For that reason, type 1 is sometimes called insulin-dependent diabetes. Alyssa gives herself four insulin shots a day.

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