The Diabetes Epidemic Among African Americans

Black folks are more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes

National Diabetes Education Program | 7/30/2013, 3 p.m.
Black folks are twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes and suffer complications.


Diabetes is a group of diseases marked by high levels of blood glucose resulting from defects in insulin production, insulin action, or both. Diabetes can lead to serious complications and premature death, but people with diabetes can take steps to control the disease and lower the risk of complications.

Diabetes is one of the leading causes of death and disability in the United States. Total health care and related costs for the treatment of diabetes run about $174 billion annually.


Type 1 diabetes (formerly called juvenile diabetes) results when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys its own insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. People with type 1 diabetes must have insulin delivered by injection or a pump. Symptoms of type 1 diabetes—increased thirst and urination, constant hunger, weight loss, blurred vision and extreme fatigue—usually develop over a short period of time. If type 1 diabetes is not diagnosed and treated, a person can lapse into a life-threatening coma.

Type 1 diabetes accounts for approximately 5 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes in adults.

Type 2 diabetes (formerly called adult-onset diabetes) occurs when the body does not make enough insulin or cannot use the insulin it makes effectively. This form of diabetes usually develops in adults over the age of 40 but is becoming more prevalent in younger age groups—including children and adolescents. The symptoms of type 2 diabetes—feeling tired or ill, unusual thirst, frequent urination (especially at night), weight loss, blurred vision, frequent infections, and slow-healing wounds—may develop gradually and may not be as noticeable as in type 1 diabetes. Some people have no symptoms.

Type 2 diabetes accounts for about 90 to 95 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes in adults.

A person is more likely to develop type 2 diabetes if they:

  • have a family history of diabetes
  • are a member of an ethnic group like African Americans
  • are overweight or obese
  • are 45 year old or older
  • had diabetes while pregnant (gestational diabetes)
  • have pre-diabetes (glucose levels are elevated but not high enough to be
  • diagnosed as diabetes)
  • have high blood pressure
  • have abnormal cholesterol (lipid) levels
  • are not getting enough physical activity
  • have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • have blood vessel problems affecting the heart, brain or legs
  • have dark, thick and velvety patches of skin around the neck and armpits (This is
  • called acanthosis nigricans.)

Gestational diabetes develops during pregnancy. Women who have had gestational diabetes have a 35 to 60 percent chance of developing diabetes, mostly type 2, in the next 10 to 20 years.


  • 4.9 million; 18.7 percent of all non-Hispanic blacks ages twenty and older have diagnosed and undiagnosed diabetes
  • 12.6 percent had diagnosed diabetes according to age adjusted 2004-2006 national survey
  • data


  • Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for people with diabetes—about two out of three people with diabetes die of heart disease or stroke.
  • Adults with diabetes have heart disease death rates about two to four times higher than adults without diabetes.
  • The risk for stroke is two to four times higher among people with diabetes.
  • About 67 percent of adults with diabetes also have high blood pressure.
  • Smoking doubles the risk for heart disease in people with diabetes.