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Hispanics and Diabetes

More than three generations of Latinos currently live in the United States. The median age of first-generation Latinos is 34 years with the majority of males and females in the 25-44 year old age group. The median age of second-generation Latinos is 11, with approximately equal numbers of males and females. The third and higher generations of Latinos have a median age of 24 with a fairly even age distribution from birth to 54 years. Being part of the culture of the United States is not necessarily a good thing when it comes to the health and wellness of the Hispanic population.

As with all American cultures, diabetes is one of the main illnesses populations have to deal with. Diabetes is prolific in the Hispanic population. The chronic disease referred to as diabetes develops when the pancreas is no longer able to perform its function of creating sufficient insulin, a hormonal substance that regulates the conversion of starches and sugars into energy. As a result, heightened blood glucose levels occur. Without effective treatment, diabetes can have many adverse effects, harming systems ranging from the eyes to the circulatory system.

Hispanics and Diabetes

In the traditional thinking about diabetes, Type 1 diabetes was largely associated with the pediatric population. In other words, it has long been believed that most children with diabetes develop the type that requires the use of insulin for controlling the condition. Adults who developed the disease typically developed Type 2 diabetes, which can often be controlled without the use of insulin.

There are a number of significant differences between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is classified as a condition that affects the body’s immune system, causing it to damage the beta cells of the pancreas that are responsible for the production of insulin. Because the body’s insulin-producing capability is largely eradicated by this attack of the immune system, external sources of insulin are necessary to properly digest food and convert starches and sugars to energy. Type 1 diabetes usually has an acute onset period that is characterized by unusual hunger and thirst, visual problems, fatigue, nausea, and weight loss.

Recent increases in the incidence and prevalence of diabetes have occurred across all socio-demographic categories, including gender, ethnicity, race, and age. Statistics from the Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance System indicating that between 1990 and 2001 the largest proportional increases in diagnosed diabetes occurred in the cohorts of Americans aged 30 to 39 years and 40 to 49 years of age. Moreover, although it was once called “adult-onset” diabetes because it was almost never seen in young patients, type-2 diabetes is now increasingly recognized as a serious ailment in American children and adolescents.

However, although the incidence and prevalence of diabetes have increased markedly among almost all socio-demographic groups in recent years, diabetes continues to disproportionately impact specific subpopulations. Perhaps most markably, the incidence and prevalence of type-2 diabetes increase markedly with age. In addition, individuals from certain racial and ethnic minority groups, including Native Americans, Hispanics, and African-Americans are disproportionately affected by the condition, with the prevalence of diagnosed diabetes generally ranging 2 to 5 times within such populations than in the majority European-American population. In fact, scientific projections indicate that, unless drastic actions are taken to reverse existing disparities, the largest proportional increases in diabetes diagnoses in upcoming decades will occur within African American, Native American, Alaska Native, Asian and Pacific Islander, and Hispanic or Latino subpopulations.

Ethnic and racial differences also appear to be associated with disparities in the severity of the disease and its related complications. For instance, research suggesting that African Americans with diabetes suffer vision loss, renal disease rates, and amputations at rates that are between 1½ to 4 times as high as those experienced by their White counterparts. Ethnic and racial disparities in outcome may be related to disparities in access to and use of healthcare services: research suggests that Whites with diabetes make roughly 40 percent more visits to office-based physicians per year than do their non-White compatriots with the disease. Cultural factors and socioeconomic conditions also appear to contribute to increased risk of the precipitating factor obesity in non-White populations. For example, residents of the low-income, predominantly Hispanic and African-American community of East Harlem, New York City, suffer mortality and complication rates of diabetes as much as 5 times overall rates observed among the city’s residents.

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