Diabetes remains an epidemic in the U.S., but experts are now more concerned that certain populations may not be getting the right kind of treatment because of their ethnic and cultural beliefs.
Physicians can’t use a one-size-fits-all approach to treating patients with diabetes; physicians, families and community leaders must work together to develop culturally specific programs, according to Dr. Kevin McKinney, Minority Health Affairs Committee chairman of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists.
Cultural viewpoints of medicine and disease only compound the issue, said McKinney, who spoke at a recent American Medical Association media briefing on diabetes.
For instance, in some societies, religion influences one’s physical and emotional well-being equally. When an illness occurs, a family may seek out the advice of a religious leader before consulting a physician, which would delay treatment and increase the risk of complications.
“Most people in these communities don’t even know they’re at risk,” McKinney said. “They may know about diabetes and its effects, but they’re unaware that living a healthy lifestyle can help reduce their risk.”
McKinney stresses that education is the key to eliminating the prevalence of diabetes in certain communities and suggests programs that pair education with a cultural activity.
“Programs held at community and religious centers can focus on diabetes risk factors and some of the healthier approaches to traditional foods that may help in reducing those risks,” McKinney said.
More than 21 million Americans now have diabetes – a number that experts say may climb as high as 31 million by the year 2050. Every 24 hours, another 4,100 people in the United States are diagnosed with the disease.
But despite these dire statistics, Dr. Frank Vinicor, director of the Division of Diabetes Translation at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says that the medical community is making great strides to combat this epidemic.
“We know that you do not have to develop type 2 diabetes if you’re at high risk, and that if you do have diabetes, you don’t have to lose your eyes, your feet or your heart,” Vinicor said at the briefing.
The overall outlook for diabetes is beginning to improve, Vinicor said.
“The rates of amputations and end-stage kidney disease due to diabetes are actually beginning to fall,” he said. “The preliminary data indicate that fewer people with diabetes are dying. So we’re seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.”