Members of the African-American and Hispanic communities have been found to have a higher risk of diabetes—a trend that is being felt in the Central Valley.
One of the main causes for this problem is a higher rate of obesity among the Hispanic and African-American population. According to a finding released by the Center for Disease Control, 42.5 percent of Latinos in the United States and 48.1 percent of non-Hispanic black Americans are obese. This is in comparison to an obesity rate of 34.5 percent among non-Hispanic whites.
Dr. Renee Kinman, pediatric oncologist at UCSF-Fresno and Community Regional Medical Center, said this problem has extended to higher levels of childhood obesity.
“In California, they are higher in the Central Valley,” Kinman said. “The last time I saw for kids ages infants to 8th and 9th grade was that the percentage of kids that were overweight or obese was 42 percent.”
Kinman further added that she is now seeing diabetes cases in children had not been seen in younger ages previously.
“It used to be it was adults, but now we’re seeing teenagers. Teenagers are like now the new 50 in terms of diabetes,” she said. “You’re getting kids who’re getting very adult diseases—they’re getting fatty liver, they’re getting high blood pressure, they’re getting type 2 diabetes. They’re getting at a much earlier age than their parents.”
Ken Thorpe, chairman of the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease and a professor at Emory University, said that obesity rates since 1985 have doubled, with rates skyrocketing amongst minorities. A primary reason for the prevalent obesity rates, he said, is poverty. As Thorpe stated, households with lower incomes will tend to have diets with a higher caloric intake.
“We know that lower income families—whether it’s white, black and Hispanic—will rely more on processed foods,” Thorpe said. “Very often they have less access to fresh fruits and vegetables because of where they live.”
“So definitely diet does play a role because if you think about a typical Hispanic diet, it tends to be heavy on tortillas, beans and rice,” Dr. Kinman said, “and you don’t see many vegetables in there.”
In lower income families who are economizing, Thorpe claimed that processed foods are often seen as the more sensible choice.
“If you’re looking at allocating money to housing and transportation and other things, you tend to look for cheaper options for food,” he said.
Dr. Kinman corroborated this point further, especially in regards to southwest Fresno, which she referred to as a “food desert.”
“So imagine you’re a Hispanic family and you have $25 to feed your family for the week,” she said. “You can buy a big bag of rice and you can buy a big bag of beans, and you will fill up on that food.”
Dr. Kinman also added that sedentary lifestyles will further contribute to obesity in impoverished areas.
“And you look at ‘is there a place where people can play?’” She said. “You know, if you’re worried that your kid’s going to get shot, they’re not going to be going outside.”
Limited access to healthcare can also be a contributing factor.
“You’re actually in a place where we have a shortage of healthcare professionals,” Dr. Kinman added. “I have patients who drive four hours to see me. I have patients who no-show who live three hours away. A lot of our families are poor. If their parents miss a day in the fields, they don’t get paid.”
Diabetes rates in these communities may include a genetic factor. In three people—one white, one African-American and one Hispanic—the white patient was said by Dr. Kinman to be less at risk of contracting diabetes, even if those three patients were all the same weight.
“Why? We don’t know. Could it be related to some of the social determinants of health? Could it be because we consume a better diet? Well, that’s not going be true, for there’s also poor Caucasians,” Dr. Kinman said. “So if we knew what caused it exactly, we’d be able to fix it. That’s the problem.”
In order to fight diabetes, Thorpe recommended education as an effective means of prevention. A longer recess, he said, could be a helpful tool, and small programs on diet, exercise and nutrition were advised.
Kinman, however, warned that in order for families to fight lifestyles that increase the risk of diabetes, the change must occur with the entire household.
“You have to convince the family to change its lifestyle because you can’t change one kid if the rest f the family does not adopt the same lifestyle,” she said.
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