Statistics reported with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention document staggering numbers for type 2 diabetes in Washington, D.C., neighborhoods East of the Anacostia River (Wards 7 and 8), which have caused health officials to take pause.
With current rates increasingly steadily, roughly 13.4 percent of residents living in Wards 7; and 19.7 percent of residents in Ward 8 have diabetes (highest in the city). Conversely, rates of 3.6 percent were tabulated for residents living in Ward 2; and 4.2 percent for residents in Ward 3 (lowest in the city).
“Diabetes is a growing epidemic among low-income neighborhoods and a leading cause of chronic health issues for African Americans,” Dr. Gail Nunlee-Bland, director of the Howard University Hospital Diabetes Treatment Center, told NBC4. “This disparity stems from poor communities having a lack of access to health care, educational programs and nutritional resources in comparison to areas of more affluence.”
Blacks in the District are plagued by the highest mortality and complications rates from type 2 diabetes, with numbers topping 45 percent (Ward 7) and 32 percent (Ward 8) for residents diagnosed with the disease.
With type 2 diabetes, your body cannot properly use insulin (a hormone that helps glucose get into the cells of the body). You can get type 2 diabetes at any age, but you are at higher risk if you are older, overweight, have a family history of diabetes, are not physically active, or are a woman who had gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes is a kind of diabetes that some women get when they are pregnant. Even if a woman’s blood sugar levels go down after her baby is born, she is at higher risk of getting type 2 diabetes later in life. With type 1 diabetes, your body cannot make insulin, so you need to take insulin every day. Type 1 diabetes is less common than type 2 diabetes; about 5% of the people who have diabetes have type 1. Currently, no one knows how to prevent type 1 diabetes.
Dietician Candace Merrill told the Informer that the numbers speak as much to the underlying causes of diabetes as it does to neighborhoods and race.
“We have to be careful to examine the neighborhoods and the environments – the teleology of diabetes in these Wards. With a lack of healthy food options, stress, and few resources to address diabetes awareness and prevention, you have the outcomes we now face,” Merrill said. “Understanding how the body processes different foods into sugar or the amount of sugar used as fillers in inexpensive food options cannot be omitted from the larger conversation.”
Over eighty-four million Americans now have prediabetes – that’s 1 out of 3 adults. Of those 84 million, 9 out of 10 of them don’t even know they have it. Without taking action, many people with pre-diabetes could develop type 2 diabetes within 5 years.
“Preventing diabetes in predominately African American communities starts with raising awareness and educating people with pre-diabetes to change their lifestyle in order to decrease their risk of getting the disease,” Nunlee-Bland said. “For individuals that have diabetes, there is an abundance of programs and resources available to help manage the disease.”