Hispanics and Their Health: Understanding Higher Risks of Diabetes, Related Complications

As the nation marks Hispanic Heritage Month 2022, it’s vitally important to understand that Hispanic Americans are more likely to develop diabetes – a 66 percent higher risk than that of non-Hispanic whites. And Hispanics are 22 percent less likely to have controlled high blood pressure. Both statistics come from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Diabetes complications also hit Hispanic, or Latino, Americans harder with higher rates of kidney failure caused by diabetes — and related vision loss and blindness.

Christine C. Marrero, D.O., family medicine physician at Baptist Health Primary Care.

“Hispanics can reduce their chances of being diagnosed with diabetes by making important lifestyle changes,” explains Christine C. Marrero, D.O., family medicine physician at Baptist Health Primary Care.

“Maintaining a healthy weight and active lifestyle are crucial factors — as well as a well-balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and lean protein.”

Many Hispanic Americans don’t understand that their dietary choices are keeping them overweight — in addition to sedentary lifestyles. Obesity rates are 20 percent higher among Hispanics, compared to non-Hispanic whites. Obesity is a major risk factor for diabetes and high blood pressure.

“Risk factors include poor diet, being overweight/obese, genetics, and lack of physical activity,” said Dr. Marrero. “Diabetes is usually diagnosed with an a A1C test, which is an average of your blood sugar over the past three months. A random glucose or fasting glucose taken at your doctor’s office is a glimpse of you sugar at that time — but the best test to get an idea of your blood sugar levels is the A1C.”

Within the Hispanic culture in the U.S., diabetes risk factors include dietary choices that are high in simple carbohydrates, most commonly found in processed and refined sugars such as the filling in pastries, table sugar, syrups, and soft drinks. But simple carbs are also found in white rice, which can spike blood sugar much faster and higher because it lacks fiber, which can help improve blood sugar levels.

In contrast, foods high in fiber are “complex carbohydrates,” which help slow down digestion and the rate at which they raise your blood sugar. Dietary fiber — found primarily in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes — is best known as a benefit to relieve constipation.

“Reducing the intake of processed foods and refined sugars, as well as saturated fats, can reduce the risk of obesity,” said Dr. Marrero. “For example: reducing intake of sodas, non-lean protein.”

U.S. Hispanic are also more likely to have prediabetes, which is when blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. If you have prediabetes, you’re at higher risk for getting type 2 diabetes and other serious health problems, including heart disease and stroke, says Dr. Marrero.

A healthy diet needs to be combined with a regular and moderate exercise routine, which can involve brisk walking. The U.S. physical activity guidelines recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days per week for a total of 150 minutes, or at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least 3 days per week for a total of 75 minutes; or a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. 

“When it comes to daily activities, there are lifestyle adjustments that can help you maintain a healthy weight,” adds Dr. Marrero. “Minor changes can include choosing a parking space further away from the door to get extra steps in, and taking the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible.”

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