Black Men and Diabetes: Preventing It, Managing It
African Americans have a 50% chance of developing diabetes, but most black men pay little heed to the warnings -- and pay the price. Fortunately, type 2 diabetes is both preventable and manageable.
Brian (not his real name) had always been athletic in junior
high and high school, but when he started to put on some weight in his mid-20s,
he didn't worry too much about it. He didn't have time. Later, as a single man
and small-business owner in his early 40s, Brian ate most of his meals in junk
food at his desk and rarely exercised. He'd been diagnosed with high blood
pressure and high cholesterol about five years earlier, but he paid little
attention when his brother, a doctor, warned him that his weight and his family
history of diabetes put him in a high-risk category.
Then he walked into his doctor's office weighing 330 pounds --
even at his 6'4" height, 100 pounds more than his ideal weight. When the
doctor measured his blood sugar, it registered at a whopping 550 milligrams per
deciliter, or about five times higher than normal. "You just don't see that
kind of blood sugar," marvels Lenore Coleman, PharmD, CDE, founder of Black
and Brown Sugar, a diabetes information web site for minority populations, and
author of the forthcoming Healing Our Village: A Self-Care Guide to Diabetes
Even before you notice symptoms, high blood sugar can damage parts of your
body. That's why certain diabetes
tests to check blood sugar control and to catch problems early are so
But many patients aren't getting key diabetes tests at least annually,
such as the hemoglobin A1c test, a dilated
eye exam, and a foot exam.
"If you look at the nationwide data, it's sobering," says Enrico
Cagliero, MD, a diabetes researcher and assistant professor of medicine at
Harvard Medical School...
Brian, like millions of other black men, has type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes is the fifth deadliest disease in the U.S., and it's hitting black
communities especially hard. If current trends continue, black men will be
facing an epidemic of diabetes by the year 2050.
Approximately 2.7 million or 11.4% of all African Americans aged 20 years
or older have diabetes -- but at least one-third of them don't know it.
The average African American born today has a 50% chance of developing type
2 diabetes in his or her lifetime.
Why does diabetes hit African-American men so hard, and what
can they do about it? "First, there's the obesity issue. Caucasians tend to
have a different body image than African Americans; we don't feel like we're
overweight when we're 30-60 pounds above our ideal weight," says Coleman,
who is black.
"My patient thought he had a little too much around the
middle, but he never considered himself morbidly obese, which he was. And like
many black men, he lived alone and managed his own meals, which is a huge
issue," she says. "If you're married, you tend to plan your meals more
and eat a little better. African Americans also tend to eat a lot of fried
foods, foods that are very high in carbohydrates, lots of sweets and sugars and
starches." In fact, some studies have shown that African-American men eat
fewer fruits and vegetables than any other demographic group.
When black men have diabetes, they're also much more likely to
develop one or more of the serious complications associated with the disease,
including amputation, kidney failure, blindness, and cardiovascular disease.
For example, African Americans are 1.5 to 2.5 times more likely to have a limb
amputated than are others with diabetes.
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