November 30, 2001


Diabetes: Not an Equal Opportunity Disease for Latinos

By Assemblywoman Sally Havice

Blindness. Kidney failure. Amputation. There is a common chord that links these illnesses together —diabetes rearing its ugly and destructive head. But if the horror of these traumas don't catch your attention, diabetes surely will create concern when people learn that those with diabetes are two to four times more likely to have heart attacks or strokes. If your concern is still not at a heightened state of alert, then maybe this will be the clincher. Life expectancy is 15 years less for people with diabetes than the non-diabetic population.

Diabetes not only takes its toll on one's health, but it also impacts our nation's pocket book. This disease is the single most costly chronic disease in the United States, accounting for $98 billion in annual health care costs.

So, who gets diabetes? Anyone can be afflicted, but it is our fellow Latinos that are impacted in the greatest numbers. Of the nearly 16 million Americans who suffer diabetes, the Latino population is disproportionately affected. A study conducted by the UCLA Center of the Study of Latino Health and Culture found that as of 1996 (the most recent figures available) the mortality rate for those ages 65 to 74 were 57.8 deaths per 100,000 non-Latino whites and 135.7 deaths per 100,000 Latinos. The math says it all--the numbers are alarmingly high for Latinos. Adding insult to injury, this study shows that of the top 10 causes of death in this country, diabetes is the only one in which the Latino rate is significantly higher than the non-Latino white rate.

The high incidence of diabetes amongst Latinos may be a matter of heredity. But not all causes for diabetes are genetically linked. There are certain things that we, as a people, can do to help diminish our chance of becoming diabetic. A healthy diet and exercise are vital. Have your physician monitor your blood glucose level. Most importantly, become educated about diabetes and its symptoms and remain informed.

We have grown to be the majority population in California, yet printed Spanish literature remains the exception to the rule. Take advantage of bilingual education on diabetes. It is intolerable for literature on diabetes to not be printed in Spanish. If you need such literature, call your local chapter of the American Diabetes Association and ask for a Spanish version. Our high rate of diabetes certainly warrants that diabetes education in Spanish be available to current or potential diabetics.

Diabetes is not an equal opportunity offender when one looks at the disproportionately high number of Latinos affected. During this National Diabetes Awareness Month, let's work toward defeating diabetes and making sure that it is not an equal opportunity offender for any race or ethnic group.

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