The risk of developing diabetes is 77% greater among African Americans, according to information published in the journal Clinical Diabetes (2012). However, a recent study by researchers at Northwestern University (2018) has put an end to the mystery behind the phenomenon, finding that when all biological factors are taken into account, blacks and whites actually have the same risk of developing diabetes by middle age. The main factor that drives the difference in rates, is nothing other than obesity. The findings trumped two decades of research that had led scientists to believe that there was an unexplained reason for the differing rates.
Diabetes the Result of Cumulative Weight Gain
The study showed that if a black woman and white woman weighed the same in their 30s, their risk of diabetes at that time was the same. However, if a black woman gained more weight in the next decade or two, this would significantly increase her chance of developing diabetes. The researchers noted that the results were key, because the diabetes rate is significantly rising in black children/youths aged between 10 and 20. The causes of obesity are multiple, and include biological, social, economic, and behavioral factors. To tackle diabetes, obesity must be reduced as well, though this requires many changes that lie beyond the individual – i.e. food needs to be accessible, and there need to be enough opportunities for exercise. Greater awareness of the effects of obesity on Type 2 diabetes is also needed, so that parents can work on changing behaviors that can contribute to both conditions.
Embracing a Healthy Lifestyle
Studies have shown that a healthy diet is one akin to the Mediterranean diet, which comprises lean proteins, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and health Omega-3-rich fats, as well as whole grains. From their earliest years, children should become accustomed to the texture and flavor of whole foods, obtaining their sugar from healthy snacks and beverages like smoothies, made with fruits that are low on the glycemic index – including berries, melons, peaches, apples, pears, oranges, tropical fruits like pineapple, and dried cranberries and blueberries. These can be sweetened with stevia instead of sugar, to keep glucose levels low.
Good Sleep is Key
We have mentioned the importance of exercise and a sound diet to keep obesity and Type 2 diabetes at bay, but don’t forget the importance of a good night’s sleep. If possible, sleep in line with your body’s natural circadian rhythms. This involves sleeping when it is dark, at the same time every night. A published in the journal Diabetologia found that black women who work night shifts have a higher chance of developing Type 2 diabetes. This effect is even more pronounced in younger as opposed to older women. If you are male, don’t think you are out of the woods. A University of Chicago Medical Center study showed that black men and women sleep less than whites, men sleep less than women, and the poor sleep less than the wealthy.
We know that black people have a higher rate of Type 2 diabetes than white people, but there is no longer a mystery to be solved. The key is higher obesity rates, caused by multiple factors. To keep diabetes at bay, greater access to healthy food and more opportunities for safe and affordable exercise space are key. Finally, individual homes should work to battle diabetes through regular physical activity, a Mediterranean-style diet, and a good night’s sleep.