This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

Contribute Thoughts | Search Serendip for Other Papers | Serendip Home Page

Biology 103
2003 Second Paper
On Serendip

Why is Diabetes an Epidemic in the African American Community?

Ramatu Kallon

"The facts are clear: The diabetes epidemic sweeping the U.S. is hitting the African American community particularly hard, according to doctors." (2) Diabetes is defined as, "A disease that affects the body's ability to produce or respond to insulin, a hormone that allows blood glucose (blood sugar) to enter the cells of the body and be used for energy." (1) There are two types of diabetes: type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes, which usually begins during childhood or adolescence, "Is a condition characterized by high blood glucose levels caused by total lack of insulin. This occurs when the body's immune system attacks the insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas and destroys them.." (2) Type 2 Diabetes, most common form of the disease, "Usually occurring in middle age adults after the age of forty-five, is a condition characterized by high blood glucose levels caused by either lack of insulin or the body's inability to use insulin efficiently." (2) National health surveys over the past 35 years show that the number of African American's that have been diagnosed with diabetes is drastically increasing. In fact, it has been reported, "Out of 16 million Americans with diabetes, twenty-three million are African Americans." (3) There are clearly many implications on why diabetes is so rampant in the African American community, those of which will be discussed in this report. In this report, I will exam aspects of the "African American Culture," in order to determine whether those aspects have anything to do with the reasons why diabetes is higher in the African American community, more so than others.

"Have you ever heard in the Black culture someone say to another "I'm going home to grease?" or "Mama can sure burn." Do they mean that literally? Is there a lot of grease in soul food? Do African Americans like their food well done or almost burnt? Do greens and beans require pork to satisfy as soul food? Is this a legacy from slavery that remains with us 135 years later?" (4) These rhetorical questions are solutions to why diabetes is most prevalent in the African Americans community. "Fifty percent of African American women suffer from obesity. African American adults have substantially higher rates of obesity than white Americans." (3) Overweight is a major risk factor for diabetes 2 in the African American community. Excess amounts of fats and sugars are killing the African Community. In the bestseller Satan", by Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu, she argues that "Diabetes is the third leading killer after heart disease and cancer among African Americans." (4) She goes on to say that, "Historically black people have played diabetes off and commonly referred to this deadly disease by saying Mama has a sugar problem." (4) In order for the expansion of diabetes to lessen in the black community, people have to be comfortable enough to name the disease and realize that "if mama has a sugar problem," then mama needs to stop eating five pounds of sugar! Many African Americans tend characterize diabetes as being a "sugar disease", but there are so many other factors besides sugar, to take into account when talking about diabetes. For one, a high amount of fat intake can be a huge risk factor for diabetes 2. My parents both have diabetes 2 (which is common in African Americans) and their parents and grand parents suffered from diabetes as well. The manifestation of diabetes in my family history is not surprising to me, primarily, because my mother cooks with massive amounts of oil and sugar. My mother generally cooks with palm oil, which is notorious for clogging the arteries, which can put people at greater risks for high bloods pressure, diabetes and obesity. According to ADA (American Diabetes Association), "Many African Americans who have diabetes know they have it, but continue their same diet." (4) That statistic holds true for my parents, whom know they have diabetes, yet continue to eat with the same amount of oils, sugars and fats as before.

Poor diet is another risk of diabetes amongst all ethnicities, particularly the African Americans. African Americans reportedly have a higher sugar and fat diet and tend to neglect eating vegetables and fruits. Last summer, I worked at a camp, which was predominantly African American. At every meal, the campers were given a main entree with vegetables and fruits as side dishes. What disturbed me the most about the meal was that the campers never ate their vegetables nor were they encouraged to eat them. When many children see their parent and peers consuming more sugar and fat and less fruits and vegetables, they are often going to do the same. Thus, the cycle of diabetes continues through the family lineage.

"The common finding that diabetes runs in the families indicates there is a strong genetic component to type 1 and type 2 diabetes." (3) Some researchers believe that inheritance of diabetes, specifically diabetes 2 is more apparent in the African Americans community, than any other race. African American children have most recently been reported as being more susceptible to diabetes 2 than whites. Researchers also believe that "African Americans inherited a "thrifty gene" from their African ancestors." (3) This "thrifty gene" enabled "Africans during the "feast and famine" cycle, to use food energy more sufficiently once food was scarce." (3) However, today the "thrifty gene" that was meant for survival makes African Americans more susceptible to diabetes type 2.

So far in this report, I have given some of the causes of diabetes in the African American Community. There is one piece missing to this puzzle and that is the affects of diabetes. "Compared to white Americans, African Americans experience higher rates of diabetes complications such as eye disease, kidney failure and amputations." (3) Some other factors that influence these complications are high blood pressure, cigarettes smoking and lack of exercise. It is unfortunate that so many diabetics, particularly African Americans do not exercise. In the NHANES survey, "Fifty percent of African American men and sixty-seven percent of African American women reported that they participated in little to no leisure time physical activity." (3) There is obviously still a sense of apathy in many Americans, particularly African Americans when it comes to caring for diabetes. In this report, I have revealed several aspects of the "African American culture" that can contribute to the high diabetes risk in the African American community. The risks discussed include, excess amounts of oils and sugars in food, improper dieting and apathy towards treating the disease. Diabetes is a major disease in all ethnicities, particularly in African Americans and can be deadly if not treated properly. If the cycle of diabetes is to lessen, in the African American community, people have to take the approach to eat right and exercise, or else the diabetes will continue to run rampant throughout the community.

WWW Sources

1) , a rich resource from the diabetes community outreach project

2) , a rich resource from the department of health and diabetes.

3, a rich resource on diabetes

4), a rich resource on diabetes

| Biology 103 | Course Forum Area | Biology | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip

© by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 10:53:20 CDT