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Women of Color and Diabetes

Diabetes affects 9.7 million women in the United States; 3 million of these women are unaware they have it. Women of color, including Japanese Americans, are 2-4 times more likely to have diabetes than Caucasian women despite having lower body weight. Both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the increased rates of diabetes among minority women. Slight weight gain greatly increases the risk for developing diabetes in minority women, so monitoring weight is important. A Western diet high in fat and calories and decreased physical activity are also factors.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that affects the way your body processes sugar. Normally, your pancreas produces insulin that helps move sugar from your blood to your body’s cells, where it is used for energy. When a person has diabetes, the pancreas does not make enough insulin and/or the body has trouble using the insulin that it produces. Therefore, your blood sugar remains high and your body does not get the energy it needs.

What are the effects of diabetes?

Diabetes is the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S. and the 5th leading cause of death among Asian Americans. Untreated diabetes can lead to serious health problems such as kidney disease, nervous system dysfunction, amputations, heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, blindness, decreased mobility, and complications during pregnancy.

Women with diabetes are more likely to have a heart attack and have it at a younger age compared to non-diabetic women. Women with diabetes are more likely to have a miscarriage or have a baby with birth defects.

How can I manage my diabetes?

Maintaining a healthy diet, monitoring sugar intake, exercising regularly, taking medications as prescribed, and knowing your blood sugar level and “ABCs” are important in diabetes management. “ABCs” refer to Hemoglobin A1C level, Blood pressure, and Cholesterol.

What is an A1C?

An A1C (or hemoglobin A1C screening) is a test performed by a doctor that provides an average of a person’s blood sugar levels over a period of about 120 days. A high blood sugar level causes sugar to build up and combine with your red blood cells. The A1C test will be able to detect this. Normal A1C range for non-diabetics is four to six percent. The target A1C level for people with diabetes is seven percent. Diabetics should test their A1C levels every three months until it is stabilized within the target range.

What can I do?

If you are a woman of color, knowing that you have an increased risk of developing diabetes is the first step toward prevention, as diabetes often has no warning signs. Maintaining an active lifestyle and healthy eating habits are very important. 30 minutes of exercise per day helps your body’s insulin to function better and lowers your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol. When eating, manage portion sizes and cut back on carbohydrates (which turn into sugar). Work with your doctor to develop an eating and exercise plan that works for you.

Where can I get more information?

Food and Drug Administration
Office of Women’s Health
(301) 796-9440

American Diabetes Association
1(800) DIABTES (1-800-342-2383)

Click here for the “Women of Color and Diabetes” slideshow.