Statistics for type 2 diabetes in Washington, D.C., neighborhoods East of the Anacostia River (Wards 7 and 8) are quite alarming. D.C. Health suggests that 13.4 percent of residents living in Wards 7; and 19.7 percent of residents in Ward 8 have diabetes (highest in the city). Comparatively, only 3.6 percent of residents living in Ward 2 have diabetes; and 4.2 percent of residents in Ward 3 (lowest in the city).
In fact, African American D.C. residents have some of the highest mortality rates (twice the national average) from type 2 diabetes and its complications. In Wards 7 and 8, the mortality rate is a stark 45 percent and 32 percent for residents diagnosed with the disease compared to 7 percent and 10 percent of residents in Ward 2 and 3.
"Diabetes is a growing epidemic among low income neighborhoods and a leading cause of chronic health issues for African Americans," says Dr. Gail Nunlee-Bland, director of the Howard University Hospital Diabetes Treatment Center. "This disparity stems from poor communities having a lack of access to healthcare, educational programs and nutritional resources in comparison to areas of more affluence."
Higher diabetes rates among African Americans are not unique to Washington, D.C. In the U.S., African Americans are twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes compared to whites. This disproportion is due to a number of behavioral, environmental and socioeconomic factors. Additionally, many individuals who are at-risk don't know they have the disease, which places their health in jeopardy from complications such as heart disease, stroke, amputation, kidney disease, blindness and death.
"Preventing diabetes in predominately African American communities' starts with raising awareness, and educating people with pre-diabetes to change their lifestyle in order to decrease their risk of getting the disease," says Dr. Nunlee-Bland. "For individuals that have diabetes, there is an abundance of programs and resources available to help manage the disease."
Dr. Nunlee-Bland suggests diabetes care is complex but can be successfully managed using a multidisciplinary approach. The Howard University Hospital Diabetes Treatment Center provides patients with a team of endocrinologists, educators, pharmacists, and nutritionists to help diabetes patients become more knowledgeable about all aspects of the disease.
"We empower our diabetes patients to take on self-management, which is a vital tool that helps set and maintain goals, make informed decisions and alter lifestyle habits to improve their health outcomes," says Dr. Nunlee-Bland.