Newly-released statistics from the American Diabetes Association indicate that an estimated 20.8 million people in the United States are living with Type 2 diabetes. Nearly one-third of them — about 6.2 million people — do not know they have the disease.
While diabetes occurs in people of all ages and races, Dr. Alan Chun, medical director of International Community Health Services (ICHS), a community clinic that serves a primarily Asians and Pacific Islander (API) patient base, notes that certain groups have a higher risk for developing the disease than others.
“We certainly see it higher in the Pacific Islander populations and in the Filipino population,” says Chun. “We’re also seeing diabetes in those that are more acculturated, because they’re eating more American food,” he says.
Research has shown that second- or third-generation Asians and Pacific Islanders, as well as immigrants who have been in the United States for a longer period of time, are more likely to develop diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is also more common among older adults, people with an immediate family history of diabetes, those who are physically inactive or overweight, and women with a history of gestational diabetes.
Many APIs remain undiagnosed, despite having an increased risk for developing diabetes, because most people with diabetes have no symptoms, says Dr. Chun. “It’s hard for people to believe that they have something that is as serious as diabetes, when they feel well. You can’t tell you have diabetes simply based on how you feel,” he says.
Because symptoms are not readily apparent, it is critical for people at risk for diabetes to talk to a health care provider, according to Chun. “The only way you can tell that you have diabetes is by actually getting tested,” he says.
In order to determine whether or not a person has diabetes, health care providers measure the patient’s blood sugar level by conducting a Fasting Plasma Glucose Test (FPG) or an Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT).
People with diabetes have high levels of glucose (sugar) in their blood, which can cause serious damage to the eyes, heart, nerves, and kidneys, due to their bodies’ inability to produce or properly use insulin, a hormone that is needed to convert food into energy.
Before people develop type 2 diabetes, they almost always have “pre-diabetes,” a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.
According to the American Diabetes Association, people with pre-diabetes can delay or prevent the development of the disease by managing their blood glucose levels through changes in diet and exercise.
Community support groups, diabetes education and self-management classes have also been shown to prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes. Such groups and classes are effective, says Chun, because they “explain how to actually make changes to your lifestyle.”
The classes and groups also provide the opportunity for participants to ask questions, share experiences, and receive education on an ongoing basis, rather than on a one-time basis.
“The classes offer more group interaction and more in-depth teaching,” Chun adds. “They make much more of a difference than the short period of time that I can spend with a patient in the exam room.”
ICHS offers free in-language diabetes support groups, education classes, and self-management classes, in partnership with the Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) 2010 Coalition, a service of Public Health – Seattle & King County. Currently, classes are offered in Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Khmer (Cambodian).
For more information about diabetes testing, support groups and classes, please call (206) 788-3644.
ICHS submitted this article.