Spotting the Ethnic Gap in Diabetes

Diabetes risk differences can be seen in both early and late stages

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Studies have shown that the risk of diabetes may be different for people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Yet researchers are still not sure when this gap begins.

Findings from a recent study showed that ethnic differences in diabetes risk can be spotted even before people develop full-blown diabetes.

"Ethnic differences can be detected at both the early and later stages of the diabetes disease process," the authors concluded.

"Control your weight - it may prevent diabetes."

In their recent study, Carlos Lorenzo, MD, and his colleagues from the University of Texas Health Science Center wanted to see if ethnic differences in diabetes risk started early in the diabetes disease process.

Before a person develops type 2 diabetes, they almost always have prediabetes - a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be called diabetes.

Prediabetes can be measured as impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glucose.

People with impaired glucose tolerance have trouble turning sugar (glucose) in the blood into an energy source for the body.

Thus, their blood sugar levels rise, putting them at risk of diabetes and other health problems.

Impaired fasting glucose means that someone has consistently high blood sugar levels when they have not eaten for some time.

This condition also means that sugar is not being used as energy.

Dr. Lorenzo and colleagues compared the risks of impaired glucose tolerance, impaired fasting glucose and diabetes between Mexican Americans and non-Hispanic whites.

They found that Mexican Americans were 1.48 times more likely to have impaired glucose tolerance and 1.71 times more likely to have impaired fasting glucose, compared to whites.

In addition, Mexican Americans were 2.20 times more likely than whites to develop diabetes, even among participants who started the study with normal 2-hour glucose (a measure of blood sugar levels 2 hours after eating a glucose load).

Obesity also played a role in the relationship between ethnicity and the risk of developing impaired glucose tolerance or diabetes. Among non-obese participants, Mexican Americans had a higher risk of impaired glucose tolerance or diabetes.

Among obese participants, however, these risks were similar between Mexican Americans and whites.

Even though whites generally had a lower risk of prediabetes and diabetes, their risk became similar to that of Mexican Americans when they became obese.

This study included 3,015 Mexican Americans and non-Hispanic whites between 25 and 64 years of age.

The research was published August 24 in Diabetes Care, a journal of the American Diabetes Association.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 28, 2012
Last Updated:
November 16, 2012