By: Mila Ferrer, Director of Programs at Beyond Type 1
Type 2 diabetes is an urgent health problem in the Hispanic community, which is disproportionately affected by this chronic disease, compared to other U.S. populations. Genetics and environmental factors play a role, but health disparities in early access to screening, type 2 diabetes prevention and healthy lifestyle intervention add fuel to the fire. Increased diabetes research in the Hispanic community, culturally relevant information on diabetes risk factors, symptoms, treatments and education can help improve the disproportionate burden of diabetes in minority populations and promote health equity.
Data from the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL) shows that approximately 17 percent of Hispanics in the U.S. have type 2 diabetes. In comparison, the prevalence of diabetes in non-Hispanic whites is approximately eight percent. Hispanics have higher rates of end-stage renal disease caused by diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy is 84 percent more prevalent in Hispanics than non-Hispanic whites, and they are 40 percent more likely to die from diabetes than non-Hispanic whites. Diabetes was the fifth major cause of death for Hispanics in 2006, compared to the seventh leading cause for non-Hispanic whites. These statistics might explain why Hispanics consider diabetes their main health concern, above cancer and other chronic conditions.
To better serve the Hispanic community, I encourage diabetes educators to ask the right questions, learn more about their diabetes patients and do not assume that Hispanics are all the same.
It’s imperative to know and understand that there is diversity among Hispanics and we are not all the same. The differences in diabetes prevalence among Hispanic subgroups are masked when we are combined into a homogeneous group. Data from the HCHS/SOL shows that 10.7 percent of South Americans, 14 percent of Cuban Americans, 17.8 percent of Central Americans, 19.2 percent of Puerto Ricans, 18.4 percent of Dominicans, and 18.9 percent of Mexicans have type 2 diabetes, and the prevalence keeps growing.
We also need to take into consideration that among youth ages zero to 19, the rate of newly diagnosed cases of type 1 diabetes increased most sharply in Hispanic youth, a 4.2 percent annual increase. These are kids and families that need education and continuous support, and they need a personalized treatment, as well as culturally relevant information to help them make the right choices.
Diversity among Hispanics is not only in diabetes prevalence. Even though a person is considered Hispanic, not all Hispanics eat the same kind of food and have the same culture. Hispanics are diverse, with a vast variety of foods, traditions, beliefs, and even words, for those who speak Spanish. To better serve the Hispanic community, I encourage diabetes educators to ask the right questions, learn more about their diabetes patients and do not assume that Hispanics are all the same.
Get to know their food choices, likes and dislikes, values, cultures, traditions, beliefs and attitudes, and then tailor your message to each specific group – but never forget about the Hispanic relationship with “miracle cures.” Hispanics will make a tea out of any imaginable leaf and will tell just about anyone that their diabetes disappeared. These are the conversations many Hispanics have with their family members and friends, and sadly, some will take this advice and discontinue their medical treatment. Herbal medicine is still important among Hispanics and it can become a barrier, not only for diabetes education, but also for continued management.
A very strong trait among Hispanics is the love for their families, and one way to demonstrate that love is through food and cooking. All that delicious food is an important part of their culture and family history. As diabetes educators, teach your patients to cook their favorite dishes in a healthier way. Use that same love for their families as a motivator in their diabetes management. It could be a great way to light the spark they need.
Hispanics are the largest minority in the U.S. and that trend will continue. We need to make sure we have the right resources to help and support them on their journey living with diabetes.
The following are a few great Spanish resources:
Mila is a tireless advocate for more and better diabetes education for the Hispanic community. Through her renowned blog, strong presence in social networks and participation in speaking engagements, Mila provides support, education, and empowerment for people touched by diabetes to take an active role in managing their own health. Mila is the Director of Programs at Beyond Type 1.