Diabetes Prevention, along with Early Diagnosis, are Key for Marginalized Communities
Although we primarily deal with seniors at Prime Medical Alert, it’s not only seniors who suffer from disparities in healthcare based on income. While more people than ever before are insured, income still plays a major role in health. This gap is widened even further when you begin to factor in race or ethnicity and sadly, when speaking only about diabetes, the gaps become all too clear. To decrease the rate of type 2 diabetes, we need to tackle environmental factors, test early, and teach people how to recognize signs of prediabetes and diabetes.
Instead of focusing on genetic factors, which we can’t control, the NIH would rather have us focus on prevention. They found that prevention and intervention are equally effective across all races and ethnicities. This is great news because it allows us to fight back. Recognizing environmental factors may be the first step in decreasing risk.
One major environmental factor that has gotten a lot of attention in recent years is poor access to healthy food. Certain neighborhoods do not have a grocery store for miles, in what Michelle Obama calls “food deserts.” Obviously, access to a grocery store with fresh and healthy food is important. However, the problem extends even further than a simple matter of accessibility. It can partly be blamed on eating and shopping habits as well.
When people are accustomed to eating what is close at hand (fast food, convenience store food, and processed food which is cheap and tastes good), those habits are hard to break even after a grocery store has been introduced into a neighborhood. With more education regarding how detrimental a poor diet can be, coupled with increased access to healthy food, we will hopefully begin to see positive change.
Environmental factors additionally include: inability to exercise, stress, and exposure to chemical pollution. For many Americans, lack of energy and time are the two main reasons they do not exercise. For someone who is working overtime just to stay afloat, it makes sense that exercise is not his or her main priority. Along with being overworked, working in a high-risk job or having a lack of job stability increases stress. Stress produces the hormone cortisol, which raises blood glucose levels and blood pressure. Also, certain chemical pollutants found in water, the air, and the ground called Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) have been linked to type 2 diabetes and obesity. While some of these risk factors can be taken care of on a personal level, they must be managed on a policy level.
Even with the prevalence of type 2 diabetes in today’s society, many people do not know they have it until their symptoms take a turn for the worse. There are recommended tests based on certain risk factors, even for people who are asymptomatic, but many are woefully misinformed about the disease’s early symptoms.
Early diagnosis and treatment (on a broad scale) can save years of life and millions of dollars. For poor communities and those without health insurance, minimizing environmental factors along with early diagnosis is especially challenging, but even more important.
There have obviously been great advancements in treatment and overall understanding, but there are still large gaps between white and minority populations. Some of the risk factors are based on environment while others are based on genetics. Although the NIH has identified more than fifty genetic markers that influence diabetes, none of the markers completely explain the different rates of diagnosis between races. There is still research to be done.