Fewer Minority Men Have Undiagnosed Diabetes

TUESDAY Aug. 14, 2007 -- U.S. black and Hispanic men are now no more likely than whites to have undiagnosed diabetes, researchers say -- suggesting that recent prevention and education efforts are paying off for these hard-hit groups.

Still, too many overweight American men remain unaware that they have diabetes, the study found.

"They're less likely to be diagnosed than the average person," said study author James P. Smith, senior economist at the nonprofit Rand Corp., in Santa Monica, Calif. "That's just unacceptable, unnecessary, and hopefully will change," he said.

According to federal statistics, an estimated 20.6 million Americans over the age of 20 -- almost 10 percent of that age group -- now have diabetes. Blacks are nearly twice as likely to have diabetes as whites, and Mexican-Americans are 1.7 times more likely to have the blood-sugar disease.

In the new study, Smith examined three national health surveys of adults aged 25-70 spanning the years 1999-2002, 1988-1994 and 1976-1980. He looked at the statistics regarding men and diabetes. Some of the men had not been diagnosed with the disease prior to tests given as part of the study.

Smith found that the percentage of men with diabetes who didn't know their status dropped from 50 percent to 20 percent over the time period studied.

That's a very positive trend, Smith said. "Having diabetes and not knowing it as a really bad thing," is even worse than being unaware of high blood pressure, he said.

Indeed, untreated diabetes can lead to a variety of medical problems. But "we have much better treatments than we've had (in the past)," he said. "You'll live longer, especially if you adhere to the regimens you're supposed to adhere to."

From 1988-1994, blacks and Latinos were much more likely than whites to not know they were diabetic. But by 1999-2002, their rates were about the same as whites, although blacks were slightly more likely to be undiagnosed.

On the other hand, two groups -- the obese and the less-educated -- were at a higher risk of being undiagnosed.

Type 2 adult-onset diabetes is strongly tied to overweight, so anyone who's obese should be tested for diabetes and other conditions, said Smith. He noted that blood tests can now diagnose diabetes without requiring patients to drink a sugary cola-like concoction and then wait hours to see how it affects their blood sugar levels.

"There should be the same focus on obesity as there is on race and ethnicity," he said.

Smith didn't look at rates of undiagnosed diabetes among women, but he said they should be similar. According to him, it's tougher to study diabetes rates in women, because the numbers are thrown off as they temporarily develop "gestational diabetes" during pregnancy.

The study was published in the August edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The findings are encouraging, added Dr. Larry Deeb, the American Diabetes Association's president of medicine and science.

"We have to wonder if we've gotten the message out there better than we've thought," he said. "I'm serious -- it really makes you feel good."

More information

Learn more about diabetes at the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Posted: August 2007


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