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Southern States Make Up Much of ‘Diabetes Belt’

Study Shows High Rates of Type 2 Diabetes in the South
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

March 7, 2011 -- The CDC says the highest rates of type 2 diabetes in the U.S. are in a “diabetes belt” in 15 mostly Southern states.

Researchers say the diabetes belt is similar to a “stroke belt” identified in earlier studies.

The diabetes belt includes 644 counties in portions of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Nearly a third of the difference in diabetes prevalence between the diabetes belt and the rest of the U.S. is associated with sedentary lifestyles and obesity.

“Identifying a diabetes belt by counties allows community leaders to identify regions most in need of efforts to prevent type 2 diabetes and to manage existing cases of the disease,” says Lawrence E. Barker, PhD, in a news release.  Barker is with the CDC’s division of diabetes translation.

“Although many risk factors for type 2 diabetes can’t be changed, others can,” Barker says. “Community design that promotes physical activity, along with improved access to healthy food, can encourage the healthy lifestyle changes that reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.”

Diabetes Belt Demographics

The researchers identified four factors that distinguished the diabetes belt from the rest of the U.S.:

  • The population of the diabetes belt counties contained substantially more non-Hispanic African-Americans than the rest of the country. In percentage terms, 23.8% of people in the diabetes belt were non-Hispanic African-Americans, compared to 8.6% for the rest of the country.
  • 32.9% of people in the diabetes belt were classified as obese, compared to 26.1% in the rest of the country.
  • 30.6% of people in the diabetes belt counties were judged to lead sedentary lifestyles, greater than the 24.8% for the rest of the nation.
  • Only 24.1% of people in the diabetes belt counties have a college degree vs. 34.2% in the rest of the U.S.

“People who live in the diabetes belt will reduce their chance of developing type 2 diabetes if they are more active physically and, for those who are overweight or obese, if they lose weight,” Barker says. “Taking these steps will eventually lower the prevalence of diabetes within the diabetes belt.”

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