Being African American doesn't guarantee that you'll get type 2 diabetes. However, African Americans -- as well as most minority ethnic groups -- do have a higher risk, compared to Caucasians. Read on to learn about the studies that have explored this topic. And keep in mind that weight, activity level, and other modifiable risk factors play a role in whether you will develop type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 Diabetes and African Americans: Is It Just a Stereotype?
To many people, especially those inside the medical profession, it certainly seems like more African Americans have type 2 diabetes compared to other ethnicities. But is that truly reality or just a skewed or prejudiced opinion?
Studies show that African American adults are nearly twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to be diagnosed with diabetes. In addition, African Americans are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes complications, such as end-stage kidney disease, diabetic retinopathy, and lower limb amputations.
Interested in actual numbers? In 2010, the age-adjusted prevalence for diabetes in adults was 12.9 percent for African Americans, but only 7.6 percent in non-Hispanic whites ("age adjustment" is just a statistical tool to account for differences in age distribution to make fairer comparisons). While this statistic includes both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, the difference is driven by type 2 diabetes, since African Americans actually have a lower risk for type 1 diabetes.
So, studies show, quite reliably, that African Americans (as well as most minority ethnic groups) do indeed have a higher risk for type 2 diabetes compared to Caucasians. Untangling ethnicity from the other interrelated type 2 diabetes risk factors is complicated, though, so just looking at percentages alone doesn't quite tell the whole story.
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Diabetes disparities among racial and ethnic minorities: fact sheet (November 2001). AHRQ Web site. Available at: http://www.ahrq.gov/research/findings/factsheets/diabetes/diabdisp/index.html. Accessed November 12, 2013.
National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. Am I at risk for type 2 diabetes? Taking steps to lower your risk of getting diabetes (July 23, 2012). NDIC Web site. Available at: http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/riskfortype2/. Accessed November 12, 2013.
The Office of Minority Health. Obesity and African Americans (October 11, 2013). OMH Web site. Available at: http://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/templates/content.aspx?lvl=3&lvlID=537&ID=6456. Accessed November 12, 2013.
The Office of Minority Health. Diabetes and African Americans (August 28, 2012). OMH Web site. Available at: http://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/templates/content.aspx?lvl=2&lvlID=51&ID=3017. Accessed November 12, 2013.
Joslin Diabetes Center. Why do people of Asian descent get diabetes? (n.d.). Joslin Diabetes Center Web site. Available at: http://aadi.joslin.org/content/asian/why-are-asians-higher-risk-diabetes. Accessed November 12, 2013.
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