AARP Eye Center
You’ve likely heard the warning: If you don’t watch your diet and exercise regularly, you’re raising your risk for type 2 diabetes as well as prediabetes. What you may not know is that ethnicity also plays a major role. That’s right. African Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, and some Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans are all at higher risk for type 2 diabetes than Caucasians, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Blacks are disproportionately affected; they’re almost twice as likely as whites to develop type 2 diabetes by middle age. And those who get it are significantly more likely to suffer complications such as blindness, kidney disease and amputations than their white counterparts.
Until recently, researchers couldn’t make sense of it. They believed that genes were to blame — meaning people of certain races were simply destined to develop diabetes — but a study published in 2017, in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), suggests that’s not the case. Blacks and whites actually have the same biological risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The reason for the disparity has to do with a single culprit: obesity.
AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal
Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP The Magazine.
“Far and away, the leading factor for type 2 diabetes appears to be obesity,” says study coauthor Mercedes Carnethon, professor and vice chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “Factors we collectively refer to as the social determinants of health — our financial resources, access to health care, level of education and the neighborhoods we live in — all of these contribute to the development of obesity and common complications of being overweight, such as diabetes.”
Consider the consequences of living in a community that doesn’t have easy access to health care, nutritious foods or spaces that lend themselves to physical activity. “These things lead people to make choices that result in a higher risk of obesity,” says Carnethon. “That’s really what drives the disparities in the development of diabetes among ethnic groups.”
Now for the encouraging part. There’s plenty you can do, no matter your race, to reduce your risk of developing diabetes. Read on to see how.