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New Understanding of Racial Disparities and Diabetes

TUESDAY, Sept. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Black and Hispanic women have much higher rates of diabetes than Asian or white women, but death rates for related conditions such as heart disease and cancer are the same for all older women in the United States regardless of race or ethnicity, according to a new study.

The findings show that diabetes prevention is the key to reducing rates of diabetes-related deaths among all postmenopausal women, according to the University of Massachusetts Medical School researchers.

They analyzed data collected from more than 158,000 women, average age 63, between 1993 and 2008. Diabetes rates were about 27 percent for blacks, 21 percent for Hispanics, 16 percent for Asians and 12 percent for whites.

Regardless of race and ethnicity, all of the women with diabetes were two to three times more likely to die from heart disease, cancer or other causes than those without diabetes, according to the study, which was published online Sept. 16 in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

In general, women with diabetes had higher body-mass indexes (an estimate of body fat based on weight and height), poorer eating habits, were less active and had more medical conditions -- including high blood pressure and high cholesterol -- than those without diabetes.

The study is the first to show that death risk among women with diabetes is similar in different racial and ethnic groups. But because diabetes rates are higher among black and Hispanic women, more of them die from diabetes-related conditions than Asian or white women.

"Because of the 'amplifying' effect of diabetes prevalence, efforts to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in diabetes mortality should focus on prevention of type 2 diabetes," study lead author Dr. Yunsheng Ma, an associate professor of medicine, said in a University of Massachusetts Medical School news release.

People with type 2 diabetes have elevated blood-sugar levels because their bodies don't use insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone needed to convert food into energy.

Previous research has shown that 80 percent to 90 percent of diabetes cases may be preventable by lifestyle changes such as being physically active, eating a healthy diet and controlling weight.

"Rather than emphasizing aggressive use of anti-diabetic medications in postmenopausal minority women, we should focus on educating them about preventing diabetes," Ma said.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about diabetes prevention.

SOURCE: University of Massachusetts Medical School, news release, Sept. 17, 2013

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