How Does Diabetes Type 2 Affect African Americans?

Page content

How Does Type 2 Diabetes Affect African-Americans?

To answer the question of how type 2 diabetes affects African Americans, you must consider both genetics and the role that environment plays. Type 2, or adult onset, diabetes has a stronger genetic basis than type 1 does. This means that family history plays a large part, but in and of itself is not the only reason that there is a proliferation of diabetes in the United States. Recent studies have linked a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, and family history as corollaries to the disease.

Type 2 Diabetes

The first stage in type 2 diabetes is often insulin resistance wherein insulin that normally connects to receptors on liver and muscle cells, is unable to move glucose into the cells. The insulin available does not carry out its function; glucose, or blood sugar cannot gain access to the body’s cells and builds up in the blood.

In response to the high levels of glucose in the blood, the pancreas continues to churn out insulin in an attempt to help the glucose fulfill its job of providing energy to the body. Eventually, the pancreas becomes unable to produce enough insulin to overcome resistance. Ultimately, the cycle of elevated glucose continue to damage beta cells, reducing insulin production and causes full-scale diabetes as well as, creating a host of complications

Statistically Speaking

Approximately 13% of African Americans have diabetes. Of this number type 1 diabetes in African Americans account for approximately 10%; however type 2 diabetes accounts for more than 90% of the cases in the black community. Strikingly, for every six Caucasians with the disease, there are 10 African Americans afflicted.

Although the reasons are complicated and may stem from socioeconomic factors such as education, income or culture, African Americans are far more likely to suffer complications from the disease than whites are. African Americans with diabetes experience kidney failure or end-stage renal disease approximately four times more often than diabetic white Americans. The most troubling statistic is the fact that death rates for people with diabetes are 27 percent higher for blacks compared with whites.

Type 2 Diabetes and Exercise

The CDC reports that 60 % of African-American men and 78% of African-American women as overweight (defined as a body mass index greater than 25). In addition, 28.8% of men and 50.8% of African American women are obese, which is a body mass index greater than 30. Overweight, a lack of physical activity and improper eating habits are linked with the increase of type 2 diabetes in the population.

In order to ward off the effects, you need to increase physical activity as well as to create an eating plan with your health care team that addresses your specific needs. Current research has determined that 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity per day, such as stretching, strength training or aerobics, will help improve the body’s use of insulin. Overall, exercise is the most powerful proactive tool that has the power to lower blood pressure, protects against heart disease by lowering bad cholesterol and most importantly it will aid in weight loss thereby increasing insulin sensitivity. In fact, the National Institute for Health underwrote a 10-year study that investigated the role that physical activity plays in reducing or preventing diabetes and the results were startling. Of the 3000 participants (pre-diabetics), the incidence of diabetes was reduced 89% overall.

Talk With Your Healthcare Team

Both genetic and environmental factors plays a role in the number of type 2 diabetics in the United States. Researchers believe that increasing physical activity as well as minor changes in diet will greatly influence the directionality of glucose levels which will over time aid in reducing the amount of medication required to control the disease.

Type 2 diabetes affects the African American community more than the population at large. Nevertheless, there are proactive measures that will slow or prevent the disease. Exercise, weight loss, and minor changes to eating habits are great first steps in living beyond the label.


Harvard School of Public Health

The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism

National Diabetes Education Program

This post is part of the series: Living Beyond the Label: Diabetes FAQ’s

Being diagnosed with Diabetes can alter how you see yourself and the world. There are many more questions than answers and rarely will you be prepared with all the right questions to ask your primary physician. Find answers to your questions, and ask some more.

  1. Vocational Rehabilitation Programs for Diabetics With Hypoglycemia
  2. How Type 2 Diabetes Affects African Americans