Type 2 Diabetes in African-Americans: How to Lower Your Risk


We know just how stressful taking care of your health can be, especially when it comes to our blood health. Type 2 diabetes is a condition that affects many people – but you can help lower your risk before it’s too late! 

Type 2 diabetes is so common that as many as 1.4 million new cases are reported each and every year. And according to the American Diabetes Association, 4.9 million of these diagnosed cases specifically affect African Americans – that’s 18.7% of all African Americans in the United States!

In fact, Everyday Health reported that “the risk of diabetes is 77 percent higher among African-Americans than it is in non-Hispanic white people, and data suggest that African-Americans tend to experience more complications, like diabetic retinopathy, than non-Hispanic white Americans.”

Why are African Americans at higher risk of type 2 diabetes?

While type 2 diabetes is a growing concern for all of the United States, research shows that African Americans are disproportionately affected due to more than just genetics. There are important socioeconomic, physiological, behavioral, and environmental factors that have a huge impact on the health and well being of African Americans too.

Outside stressors involving race discrimination, unequal access to quality medical care, and lack of educational resources may be to blame. For example, African Americans tend to be at a higher risk of poor blood pressure and glycemic control caused by environmental, racial stressors, which can weaken the body and increase the risk of onset diabetes. 

The lack of quality medical care and thorough education is also a major issue. Many African American communities don’t receive the same promotion of healthy diet and exercise needed to prevent type 2 diabetes as other communities. And many African Americans have reported that they’re not taken seriously by doctors when visiting over health concerns, often leaving untreated or without being told they need to change their lifestyle and dietary habits.

These factors all have a negative effect on the health and well being of African Americans and can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.

So what is type 2 diabetes exactly?

Type 2 diabetes affects how your body uses insulin, a hormone that helps with the regulation of sugar, or glucose, which is an important fuel for your body! Some people cannot produce the right amount of insulin at all, while others struggle to regulate their blood sugar to healthy levels.

How do I know if I have type 2 diabetes? Type 2 diabetes symptoms. 

It’s very important to learn what type 2 diabetes symptoms look like so you can catch it as soon as possible! These effects can creep up slowly, over the course of a few years, before you even realize it.

But by knowing what to look for and by closely watching the changes in your body, you can help detect it early and make the necessary lifestyle changes to decrease your risk.

Regardless of your race, the main symptoms of type 2 diabetes include: 

  • Constant feeling of thirst

  • Increased appetite and hunger 

  • Frequent trips to the bathroom and excess urinate 

  • Unplanned or unexplainable weight loss

  • Feeling tired and fatigued

  • Blurry vision

  • Wounds and sores that take a long time to heal

  • Sudden patches of darkened skin in the armpits and/or neck

Sadly there’s no cure for type 2 diabetes, but it is preventable if you make the correct lifestyle changes and do so early.

However, if you are diagnosed, you can still live a very happy and comfortable life with diabetes medication, insulin therapy, and critical life-changing habits. 

How You Can Lower Your Risk and Change Your Life

If you’re worried about yourself or a loved one being at risk of type 2 diabetes, here are some ways that you can decrease the risk and improve quality of life.

Get screened

If diabetes runs in your family, or as soon as you start to notice any symptoms, you should ask your doctor to be screened for prediabetes and diabetes immediately. Being an active patient in your healthcare is key to a long and healthy life, and getting tested early can prevent health complications and drastically improve your quality of life down the road.

To test for diabetes, your doctor will take a little bit of blood to check your sugar levels for what is called a glycated hemoglobin (A1C) test. Normal blood sugar levels are considered 5.7% or less, whereas anything over 6.4% means you have diabetes.

Cut Out Sugar

Changing your diet is one of the key steps to decreasing your risk for type 2 diabetes, especially when it comes to reducing your sugar and fat intake. If you often eat a lot of sugar or carbohydrates, it can cause your blood sugar levels to increase higher than a healthy level.

This means that foods like white bread, candy, processed snack foods, potatoes, soda, and more can be extremely harmful if it makes up the majority of your diet.

Drink Water as Your Primary Beverage

Drinking more water is such an important thing to improve your health and your life! You should drink water instead of sugary sodas, sweet teas, juices, and other unhealthy beverages. You may even find it will help you feel more energized and hydrated!

You should drink at least 64 oz of water each and every day. One way to help reach your goal of drinking 64 oz of water during the day, is by using a water bottle tracker. We love this beautiful water tracker bottle
that clearly shows how much water you need to drink and when to drink it, to meet your goal. How cool!

Lose Weight If You’re Overweight or Obese

Being overweight or obese is one of the biggest risk factors for type 2 diabetes. When your body is carrying excess fat, it can cause the cells in your body to shut down and become resistant to insulin, which is an essential hormone that regulates your blood sugar levels. 

If you are diagnosed with prediabetes, your doctor will recommend losing some weight to help get your sugar back to healthy levels.

Work Out Regularly

By starting an exercise regime and working out regularly, you can help delay the onset of type 2 diabetes. How? Well, according to the Diabetes Prevention Program, losing even just 5% – 7% of your total body weight may be enough to restore your blood levels back to a healthy level.

If you’re new to working out, getting started can be scary! But it doesn’t have to be. Start slow with goals of purposeful walking each day and slowly introduce cardio and weightlifting as you get stronger. When working out regularly is combined with a healthy diet, you’re giving your body the best chance to avoid type 2 diabetes.

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Eat a High-Fiber Diet

A high-fiber diet has a lot more health benefits than you may realize! Besides improving digestion, eating more fiber can help balance out high sugar levels and speed up weight loss – all critical things that can help prevent a type 2 diabetes diagnosis. You should specifically introduce more soluble fiber to your diet, which can slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, a particularly good thing for folks with diabetes. 

Foods that are high in fiber include leafy green vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains.

Quit Smoking

Smoking has such a serious impact on diabetes, that according to the CDC smokers are 30% – 40% more likely than non-smokers to receive a type 2 diabetes diagnosis. Not only that, but people who smoke also have a higher risk of developing diabetes-related complications such as problems with insulin dosing, heart and kidney disease, retinopathy and blindness, and more.

Remember, type 2 diabetes is preventable.

While there are countless things that can impact your health and increase your risk for type 2 diabetes as an African American, such as family history and environmental stressors related to race and discrimination, you can help improve your health just by making a few small lifestyle adjustments.

Type 2 diabetes shouldn’t dictate your life! Start making a positive change today.