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Fighting Diabetes' Deadly Impact on Minorities


Diabetes Impact on Minorities

You inherit more than your eye and hair color from your family. You can also inherit a predisposition for diabetes, a disease that disproportionally affects racial and ethnic minorities.

The Office of Minority Health and Health Equity (OMHHE) at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is building relationships with the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and other groups to help Americans prevent and treat diabetes, and to address the disparity in how severely it affects minority groups in particular.

The American Diabetes Association Alert Day is a one-day wake-up call to inform people about the dangers of diabetes, especially when left undiagnosed or untreated. The annual event, on the fourth Tuesday of March, is a reminder for people young and old to take the ADA's Diabetes Risk Test, which includes simple questions about your family history, weight, age and other potential risk factors for diabetes.

Diabetes is a high priority for OMHHE because racial and ethnic minorities have a higher burden of diabetes, worse diabetes control and are more likely to experience complications (for example, among Hispanics, the death rate from diabetes is 50% higher than for non-Hispanic whites).

Why? For minorities, the problem is a combination of risk factors. Lack of access to health care, socioeconomic status, cultural attitudes and behaviors can be barriers to preventing diabetes and having effective diabetes management once diagnosed.

In addition, diabetes can progress faster in minority populations. This rapid progression can be compounded by a poor diet, obesity and a sedentary life.

What OMHHE Is Doing

OMHHE is working on several fronts to help members of ethnic and racial minority groups stay healthy and, if needed, to get treatment for diabetes.

OMHHE's outreach work includes raising awareness of the need for more research in diabetes therapies that address racial and ethnic differences. OMHHE is also working to make sure minorities are included as subjects in clinical trials of medical products for the treatment of diabetes and other diseases. Those trials involve testing new drugs, biologics (including blood products and vaccines), and medical devices under controlled conditions.

A Dangerous Epidemic

In the United States, 34.2 million people--just over 1 in 10--have diabetes.  In addition, about 88 million adults--approximately 1 in three--have prediabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2020.The report also found that new diabetes cases were higher among non-Hispanic Asians and non-Hispanic whites. 

Diabetes occurs because of defects in the body's ability to produce or use insulin—a hormone released into the blood to control glucose (sugar) levels and the amount of glucose transported into cells as an energy source. If the pancreas doesn't make enough insulin, or if the cells do not respond appropriately to insulin, glucose can't get into the cells and the blood sugar level gets too high. High blood sugar can lead to devastating health problems, including heart disease, blindness, kidney disease, stroke, amputation, and death.

Who has diabetes? According to the National Health Interview Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Census Bureau:

  • 14.7% of American Indians/Alaska natives
  • 12.5% of Hispanics
  • 11.7% of non-Hispanic blacks
  • 9.2% of Asian Americans
  • 7.5% of non-Hispanic whites 18 and older

Why these groups are more at risk is a complex question with no simple answer. For the most part, it's related to both environmental and genetic factors. 

Knowing your risk factors for diabetes is a crucial step toward an early diagnosis, which can give people the tools to prevent the disease from progressing.

It's also important for people with diabetes to report any safety concerns with their medications or devices (for example, glucose monitors) to MedWatch, FDA's Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program to report a problem.

Consumers, especially members of minority communities, should tell us about their good and their bad experiences with their medications and treatments. If they have any reactions to a certain diabetes medication or if they find that one treatment works better for them than another, we want to know, because that information can be useful to others as well.


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