Poverty Increases Risk Of Diabetes, Prediabetes

Jun 25, 2014

A portion of the CDC's graphic breakdown of the National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2014.
Credit via Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Diabetes is on the rise across the U.S. according to a report released this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One out of every eleven American adults has diabetes, or 9.3 percent, up one percent over the last three years.  That equates to more than three million new diabetics.

Dr. Edward Gregg of the CDC said age is the second most important risk factor after obesity and the increase could be attributed to aging baby boomers. Gregg also pointed to what might be an even greater risk factor for the disease. “There’s definitely a geographic component to the disease that tends to relate to socioeconomic status – poverty, “ he said. 

Genetics play a factor too, so New Mexico’s larger-than-average Native American and Hispanic populations factor in, but a 2013 U.S. Census report on poverty shows New Mexico among the worst in the country. Poverty and a genetic predisposition for diabetes is a dangerous combination. The New Mexico Department of Health reports a person making less than $15,000 a year is almost three times more likely to become diabetic than someone making $50,000 a year. 

Linda Reineke is a Certified Diabetes Educator with the University of New Mexico Hospital. She said the pervasiveness of the disease is affecting peoples’ attitudes. 

“I see people who have diabetes in their family and people are on dialysis," Reineke explained. "And so they think, 'OK, well my cousin is on dialysis or my dad’s on dialysis. It’s going to happen to me and that’s fine because everybody else is on dialysis.' Which is really kind of a crazy way to look at it.”

Reineke has seen how the CDC’s findings and Gregg’s explanations play out.  She said much of New Mexico, including its urban centers, does not have the infrastructure to support a healthy lifestyle, like walking trails and access to healthy food.  Her takeaway – your zip code influences your diabetes risk. 

A portion of the graphic breakdown of the CDC's National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2014
Credit via Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The CDC report says one of every three Americans is prediabetic, a condition of elevated blood sugar that is not quite diabetes. Ninety percent of them don’t know it, including about 500,000 New Mexicans. Without weight loss and some exercise, up to 30 percent of prediabetics will develop diabetes within five years.