Diabetes affects minority populations in the USA at rates higher than the general adult population. Specifically, American Indians/Alaska Natives, Hispanics, and non-Hispanic Blacks have higher rates, while non-Hispanic Asians and non-Hispanic Whites have comparatively lower rates. Among children and adolescents, the incidence of type 2 diabetes has risen significantly, especially in non-Hispanic Black individuals.
Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the way the body processes blood sugar (glucose). Over time, uncontrolled diabetes can lead to various complications, affecting almost every system in the body. Some of the common complications associated with diabetes include:
- Cardiovascular complications: People with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, such as coronary artery disease, heart attack, and stroke.
- Nerve damage (neuropathy): High blood sugar can injure the walls of the tiny blood vessels that nourish the nerves, especially in the legs. This can cause tingling, numbness, burning, or pain. Severe damage can lead to loss of sensation or pain in the affected limbs.
- Kidney damage (nephropathy): Diabetes can damage the kidneys’ filtering system, leading to kidney disease or even kidney failure.
- Eye damage (retinopathy): Diabetes can damage the blood vessels in the retina, potentially leading to vision impairment and blindness.
- Foot damage: Nerve damage and poor blood flow can cause foot problems, including ulcers, infections, and, in severe cases, amputation.
- Skin conditions: People with diabetes may experience various skin conditions, including bacterial and fungal infections.
- Hearing impairment: Diabetes can lead to an increased risk of hearing impairment.
- Stroke: Chances for people with diabetes to have a stroke are twice as high than in people without diabetes.
Proper management of blood sugar levels, regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, taking prescribed medications, and regular medical check-ups are essential in reducing the risk of developing these complications. While it’s crucial for individuals with diabetes to work closely with their healthcare providers to manage their condition effectively, certain populations tend to have higher rates of complications and poorer glycemic control compared to non-Hispanic Whites.
Minority populations & diabetes-related complications
Non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic adults with diabetes tend to have higher rates of certain complications and poorer glycemic control compared to non-Hispanic Whites. Despite the higher prevalence, minorities are less likely to receive recommended preventive care for diabetes.
Although the overall rate of diabetes-related complications has decreased since 1990, minority patients still experience these complications at a higher rate compared to non-Hispanic White patients. Research on disparities in diabetes prevention, quality of care, and outcomes among minority groups has expanded, aiming to address these disparities.
Addressing these disparities requires a comprehensive approach that includes improving access to quality healthcare, promoting health education and awareness, addressing social determinants of health, and implementing culturally sensitive and community-based interventions. It is essential to develop tailored strategies that consider the unique challenges and needs of different minority communities to effectively prevent and manage diabetes.
Despite an overall improvement in complication rates among individuals with diabetes, recent discoveries show that disparities persist between Black and Hispanic groups compared to non-Hispanic White individuals with diabetes.
There’s a necessity to deepen our comprehension of the root causes and to devise strategies for mitigating racial and ethnic disparities in diabetes complications within the United States. Certain effective programs and strategies have demonstrated some progress in addressing these inequalities. These include culturally tailored educational initiatives and modifications in health systems and population health management.
Culturally adapted diabetes education programs for ethnic minority groups have proven effective in improving glycemic control and diabetes-related knowledge in the short and medium term. However, these interventions have not consistently influenced other important health measures, such as blood pressure, lipid profiles, and body mass index. Studies suggest that longer interventions, community health worker involvement, and group education settings have been more successful. Community-based interventions in Black communities have also demonstrated the positive influence of community health workers on glycemic control.
Changes at the policy level of the healthcare system in reducing disparities in diabetes complications can also provide positive outcomes. These interventions can include incentives for employee-based diabetes screening, weight management, adherence to medical appointments, as well as the implementation of electronic health record tools and multidisciplinary provider teams for diabetes care. Many of these interventions have resulted in improved rates of diabetes screening, weight management, and blood pressure control in minority populations.
But race and ethnicity should be understood in the context of broader social determinants of health (SDH) such as socioeconomic status, education, neighborhood, and environment. Research focusing on specific SDH indicators has indicated that factors beyond income, such as home ownership and access to financial services, play a significant role in mediating disparities.
While the intricate factors contributing to racial and ethnic disparities in diabetes complications are still not fully comprehended, tailored interventions that incorporate cultural and community-based elements are crucial for successful diabetes management. To gain a comprehensive understanding of the drivers of racial and ethnic disparities in diabetes outcomes, it is imperative to move beyond categorization by race and ethnicity alone and delve deeper into all the social determinants of health influencing health and disease.