Diabetes is one of the most serious health problems that the African American community faces today. Compared to the general population, African Americans are disproportionately affected by diabetes.
There’s no denying that some groups of people have a higher diabetes risk. To understand why, researchers are turning to the impact of the environment. If the genetic risk of type 2 diabetes is evenly distributed among different racial and ethnic groups, the external challenges those groups face aren’t. Even when income differences aren’t a factor, one recent study showed, whites still live longer than African Americans. Chronic physiologic stressors—such as institutionalized racism—are a negative influence on the health and lifespan of African Americans in the United States, the study concluded.
Evidence shows that poverty and stress are much more powerful risk factors for diabetes than the color of your skin or where your parents were born. A 2007 study of nearly 50,000 people living in the southeastern United States suggested that whites and blacks of similar socioeconomic status had similar rates of type 2 diabetes. Where your parents were born or the color of your skin can contribute to how much stress you encounter or how poor you are. That means that differences in diabetes risk between racial and ethnic groups can often be traced to larger social or environmental trends.