Diabetes in the Latino Community

The Latinos Unidos Organization (LUO) and the Center for Diversity & Inclusion sponsored a lecture by Dr. Andrew Ahmann on diabetes among Latinos on January 27, 2014. The presentation was part of OHSU's cultural competency lecture series.

LUO_DiabetesDr. Ahmann is the Director of the Harold Schnitzer Diabetes Health Center at OHSU and has been chair of the Oregon Diabetes Guidelines Committee and the Oregon Diabetes Collaborative Program. The Harold Schnitzer Diabetes Health Center delivers multidisciplinary, comprehensive diabetes care to children and adults.

Dr. Ahmann presented facts about diabetes and trends for the future, the impact on Latinos, and information about prevention. Through rich education, Dr. Ahmann's presentation showed how this epidemic is happening and what we can do to stop it.

Diabetes has been named an epidemic as diagnoses among Americans have steadily increased since the mid-1990's. About 26 million people in the U.S. have type 2 diabetes, which is 11 percent of the population. However, it's expected that in the near future these numbers will increase and one-third of the population will be diagnosed with diabetes. This prediction is based on rising occurrences of diabetes among children, as well as "pre-diabetes" – having a blood sugar level higher than average but not yet high enough to be called diabetes – among 79 million adults in the US.

Diabetes disproportionately affects communities of color, especially the Latino population. Latinos are twice as likely to develop diabetes as non-Hispanic whites, and a higher percentage of Mexican Americans are diagnosed with diabetes than other ethnic groups. What is the cause of this disparity? Dr. Ahmann explained that a combination of an inactive lifestyle and genetic predisposition unfortunately cause the Latino population to have more occurrences of obesity, which is a large contributing factor to many diseases including diabetes.

It is critical to remember that social determinants of health, such as socioeconomic status, also lead to disease. For example, eating healthy foods and exercising regularly are privileges that people from low-income families don't always have when they must work multiple jobs and eat food that is affordable, which is often unhealthy. Further, without health insurance, access to medical care is difficult for many working families.

While this may paint a bleak picture for the future, Dr. Ahmann says there are lifestyle interventions that people at risk can implement to prevent the development of diabetes. One study showed that a seven percent weight loss through healthy eating and regular exercise reduced progression to diabetes by 60 percent. Dr. Ahmann suggests 150 minutes of physical activity each week and a low-calorie diet to achieve healthy vitals, including a target blood pressure of 140 over 80 and a cholesterol level of below 100.

Dr. Ahmann also stressed the importance of regular screenings and encouraged the whole family to get them. The support of family members and knowing that everyone is getting screened encourages each individual.  Talking with diverse communities about health and wellness requires cultural competency. It's important for healthcare professionals to understand cultural factors when making recommendations about diet, exercise and other factors related to health.

For many Americans, the option of getting screened for diabetes is unattainable, especially for those without health coverage or without the means to pay for medical visits. In this case, education is vital. Educating communities that are at high risk of developing diabetes can help instill healthy practices that will be passed down to future generations.   

Latinos Unidos Organization is one of several Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) managed by OHSU employees and supported by the Center for Diversity & Inclusion. LUO hosts various events and activities to bring together people of diverse backgrounds and promote inclusion among the OHSU community. For more information, contact LUO co-chairs Gabriel Flores or Daisy Alva

Story by Jillian Toda, MBA, Diversity Communications Assistant