As Diabetes Increases Among Hispanics, Prevention Program Shows Promise

An article in an Indiana newspaper documents an alarming rise in diabetes among Arizona’s Hispanics, especially along the US border with Mexico. The Republic, published in Columbus, Indiana, reports that 13.5 percent of residents in Arizona’s Yuma County had diabetes in 2010. Almost 60 percent of the border county’s nearly 200,000 residents are Hispanic.

Calling the incidence of diabetes on both sides of the border “a pandemic,” The Republic reports that 42 percent of Arizona’s Hispanic children aged 10 to 17 years are overweight. The state average for that age group is 31 percent, and the rate for non-Hispanic white children is 22 percent.

The article says that the high incidence of type 2 diabetes may result from a combination of factors, including inadequate or infrequent access to healthcare, highly processed foods and low rates of physical activity that bring on obesity, and lack of knowledge among Hispanics about how to manage the disease.

Efforts to deal with the rapid rise in diabetes among Hispanics straddle the border, with community health centers and private organizations on the US side assisted by Ventanilla de Salud (“Window on Health”), a weekly class on diabetes and nutrition offered by the Mexican consulate in Nogales.

Prevention Program for Hispanics Shows Promise

The Boston Globe reports that a small study by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester showed that a relatively low-cost prevention program lowered blood sugar levels among Hispanics. The study enrolled 150 adult Hispanic residents of Lawrence, a city whose population is 60 percent Hispanic. Although the participants did not have diabetes, all were overweight and at significant risk of developing the disease.

The study, funded by a $2.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, provided individual and group counseling, encouragement to walk more (each participant received a pedometer), and educational sessions that covered such topics as portion control, healthy foods, and salt intake reduction. Noting the popularity of telenovelas (soap operas) among Hispanics, the researchers presented one lesson in soap opera form.

Interestingly, although participants in the group that received the counseling lost an average of only 2.5 pounds each, their blood sugar dropped significantly compared to the control group. The study’s lead author, Dr. Ira Ockene, said that no one is certain why their modest weight loss was accompanied by such a notable drop in blood sugar levels. He theorized that blood sugar levels in some Hispanic ethnic groups, such as Dominicans and Puerto Ricans, may be highly responsive to even the slightest loss of weight.

The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health.



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