In the United States, an adult has a 40% chance of contracting type two diabetes, an impairment in how the body regulates and uses sugar (glucose) as a fuel. According to the Mayo Clinic, this long-term (chronic) condition results in too much sugar circulating in the bloodstream. Eventually, high blood sugar levels can lead to disorders of the circulatory, nervous, and immune systems.
Currently, 17% of Hispanic/Latinx adults are diagnosed with type two diabetes, compared with 8% of non-Hispanic white Americans getting the diagnosis. Though it’s complicated to pinpoint why this disparity exists, it essentially lies upon the healthcare system.
“There are many factors involved in leading to people being undiagnosed and unaware,” explains Lenny Lopez, M.D. associate professor at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine.
Health insurance in the United States is not universal. Most people have trouble getting health coverage, especially part-time employees.
“If you’re an essential worker and uninsured, then the chances that you’re going to have access to good comprehensive care for your diabetes, or any other chronic condition, are much less,” said Francisco Prieto, M.C., the chair of the American Diabetes Association’s National Advocacy Committee.
Hispanics make up the biggest minority group living in rural America. Unfortunately, many things, like a diabetes specialist, can be hours away in those areas. This makes it more complicated to seek treatment or even to get regularly tested at all. Because of this, people are more likely to go untreated for an extended period, finding out once it is too late.
Diabetes is also a product of the food we consume and our general lifestyle. However, unfortunately, accessing healthy food when Whole Foods charges 4 dollars an avocado does not make it easy.
Similarly, if finding a doctor is challenging in these rural areas, so is maintaining a good diet because healthy food is hard to come by. Dr. Prieto says, “If you live in a ‘food desert,’ where the only convenient place to get food is in a minimart you can walk to … you’re probably not going to get fresh vegetables and fruit.”
And as for culture and traditional food, it’s not a secret that Hispanic/Latinx people often deep fry their food and traditionally don’t have very many vegetables on their plate.
Another aggravating factor is that profound economic disparity often forces Hispanics to choose between a balanced diet and paying the month’s bills.
So how does one tackle a health problem like this? Dr. Prieto says it should be about reaching out to people and asking them what exactly they understand about diabetes.
However, if the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, perhaps the first step is to dismantle the structural racism and savage capitalism that undermine our healthcare system.