“Diabetes Belt” Stretches Across the South

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified a swath of the southern U.S. as the country’s “diabetes belt.” In this region, made up of parts of 15 states, some 12 percent of the population has type 2 diabetes, compared with 8.5 percent of people in the rest of the country.

Residents in the area are more likely to be overweight and sedentary, both of which are
major risk factors for diabetes. They are also more likely to be seniors or African Americans, both groups that suffer disproportionately from the disease. Even those who are young and trim, however, are more likely to have type 2 diabetes if they live in the diabetes belt.

According to the CDC’s Lawrence Barker, it’s difficult to know why the effect extends so far. “We suspect there are cultural factors that are very hard to measure, for example, traditional diet (or) attitudes toward seeking medical care,” he said.

Why define the area at all? It “allows us to identify areas where the need is greatest and where we can direct our attention and efforts to prevent and control diabetes,” Barker said.

Making up the diabetes belt are sections of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky,
Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. The entire state of Mississippi is included.

Barker and other researchers used data from national health surveys to compile their diabetes
map. Similar maps have been created to show where more people suffer from heart failure and stroke. Perhaps not surprisingly, there is considerable overlap among all three maps.

The CDC hopes that public health officials will use this information to target residents in the
counties and states with the highest risk of diabetes. Doctors could work to reverse and prevent obesity, for instance, or focus on general healthy living campaigns.

The article defining the belt appears in the April issue of The American Journal of Preventive


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