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How and Why Does Ethnicity Affect Diabetes?

Reviewed on 4/9/2021

Diabetes risk

Diabetes is a condition that causes elevated blood sugar levels. Acquired risk factors are associated with diabetes although ethnicity plays a role in increasing the incidence of the condition.
Diabetes is a condition that causes elevated blood sugar levels. Acquired risk factors are associated with diabetes although ethnicity plays a role in increasing the incidence of the condition.

Acquired risk factors are associated with diabetes although ethnicity plays a role in increasing the incidence of the condition.

The ethnic groups in the United States that are at risk for different types of diabetes are as follows.

 Types of       dabetes Ethnic groups at risk   
Type 1 diabetes African American and Hispanic/Latino American
Type 2 diabetes African American, Hispanic/Latino American, American Indian or Alaska Native
Prediabetes African American, Hispanic/Latino American, American Indian or Alaska Native (some Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans are also at high risk)
Gestational diabetes African American, Hispanic/Latino American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander

The prevalence of diagnosed diabetes mellitus in the United States by race/ethnicity in adults who are 20 years of age and older is as follows.

Ethnic group         Prevalence of diagnosed diabetes (%)      
Non-Hispanic whites 7.5
Asian Americans 9.2
Hispanic Americans overall 12.5
Non-Hispanic blacks 11.7
Native Alaskans 14.7
Native Americans 33

The prevalence of diagnosed diabetes in Asian Americans is

  Asian subgroup          Prevalence of diagnosed diabetes (%)      
Chinese 5.6
Filipinos 10.4
Asian Indians 12.6
Asian Americans 9.9
Japanese 4.9
Vietnamese 6.1
Korean 4.0

The prevalence of diagnosed diabetes in Hispanics/Latinos includes

 Hispanic/Latino subgroup      Prevalence of diagnosed diabetes (%)    
Central and South Americans 8.3
Cubans 6.5
Mexican Americans 14.4
Puerto Ricans 12.4
Japanese 4.9
Vietnamese 6.1
Korean 4.0

Ethnicity and diabetes

There are medical and non-medical issues that make particular ethnic groups vulnerable to diabetes. Some of the medical reasons include

Non-medical issues include

  • Disparities in income
  • Education
  • Health
  • Literacy
  • Access to healthcare
  • Cultural factors

For example, Hispanics/Latinos are more liekly to develop type 2 diabetes because of the following reasons.

  • They have genes that make them more susceptible to type 2 diabetes.
  • Their traditional diet is rich in fat and calories. Moreover, family celebrations may involve social pressure to overeat.
  • They tend to be less active physically compared to non-Hispanic whites. Culturally, being overweight is identified as healthy instead of being a health problem.

Please note that these risk factors are general and do not apply to any individual or specific Hispanic/Latino groups.

Another example is Asian Americans. Although they do not appear overweight, they are at a high risk of type 2 diabetes. This may be due to higher visceral fat (extra body fat) and lower muscle mass.

Visceral fat isn’t visible and can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and other health conditions.

The body mass index (BMI) does not apply to Asian Americans in the normal weight range (18.5 to 24.9). Researchers suggest that people of Asian ancestry should be tested if their BMI is 23 or above.

Diabetes can be prevented or delayed, but only if people know they’re at risk and take action. This includes increasing physical activity, getting regular screening for blood sugar levels and eating a diet that contains more fiber and proteins.

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References
Medscape Medical Reference

CDC


American Diabetes Association


Harvard Medical School


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