by Rebecca Nuttall
Special to the NNPA from The New Pittsburgh Courier

DEAN LARRY DAVIS, University of Pittsburgh

Almost 19 percent of all African-Americans in the country are living with diabetes. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the country, but twice as many African-Americans are dying as Whites.

This disparity is closely linked to disparities in healthcare and also increased rates of obesity in the Black community. Nationwide, 35.7 percent of African-Americans are obese while only 23.7 percent of Whites are obese.

“The diabetes epidemic we’ve been seeing is because people have been getting more and more obese and inactive,” said Mim Seidel, community based education and internship coordinator at Chatham University.

At the University of Pittsburgh Center on Race and Social Problems’ Summer Institute on Racial Health Disparities on July 18, experts like Seidel shared their research on diabetes disparities as they relate to the Black community.

According to data from a self-reported telephone survey, there was little difference by race in diabetes care in Pennsylvania. However, Black diabetics are 1.6 times more likely to have lower extremity amputations as Whites.

Black adults are also significantly more likely to report diabetes. Black adults were significantly more likely to report diabetes testing than Whites.

In Allegheny County 62 percent of White adults are overweight or obese and 72 percent of Black adults are overweight or obese. Black adults were also significantly more likely to report they were not physically active.

“Type-two diabetes is preventable. People think its destiny. People think if mom and grandma had diabetes then they will get diabetes, that there’s no way out of that heredity and that’s not true,” Seidel said. “Yes genes play a part; they increase your risk. But if the person with the bad genes strives to not be overweight and to be physically active, to eat healthily, it greatly decreases the chance of getting diabetes or at least delays it.”

Several environmental factors contribute to high obesity rates in the Black community including decreased access to full service grocery stores, the high cost of healthy foods, the low cost of unhealthy foods, and decreased access to safe places to play and be active. In order to combat this, Seidel said communities need to promote the availability of healthy food and beverages, support healthy food and beverage choices, encourage breast feeding, encourage physical activity, and limit sedentary activity among children and youth.

While Seidel identified decreasing obesity as the primary key to preventing diabetes, she said diabetics also need better access to healthcare and diabetes care education. She said the American Diabetes Association offers to train people to do diabetes education in their community centers, churches and other spaces, but few people take advantage of it.

The second presentation was from Dr. Rhonda Moore Johnson the medical director of health equity and quality services at Highmark Inc. While Johnson’s presentation went over disparities among those insured by Highmark, Seidel said disparities in diabetes care exist more often for the uninsured.

Still, Highmark has implemented a number of programs to reduce health disparities among their membership. One example was a mailing sent to members about diabetes testing. After six months, 24 percent of those who received the mailing had received both diabetes tests.

“We didn’t get here overnight. We’re not going to close the gap overnight, it’s going to take time,” Johnson said.

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