Diabetes amongst African Americans and Native Americans

For my reflection topic this week I chose to focus on two races, African Americans and Native Americans. I decided to focus on both because I am a multi-race person but I identify the most with African American and then Native American. My mother’s side consists of African American and Indian background. Diabetes is described as “the body’s ability to produce or respond to insulin, a hormone that allows blood glucose (blood sugar) to enter the cells of the body and be used for energy”. Diabetes is significantly higher in African Americans and Native Americans in comparison to Caucasians.

What I found interesting and similar in both races is that they both possess the “thrifty gene”. This gene is found in both African Americans and Native Americans because before colonization and slavery which enabled them to use food sources for energy more efficiently when food would be scarce. That gene used to be used for survival and makes both races prone to diabetes. Both races have had their environments dramatically changed and have been introduced to European foods. With the “thrifty gene” already in their genetic code and the introduction of high-calorie foods it only increases the problem. There is also correlation that social status and environment have a lot to do with both races and diabetes. Both African Americans and Native Americans have had hard lives and usually come from poorer backgrounds. In areas of poverty people often smoke cigarettes, can’t afford regular doctor visits, poor diets and lack of education. How can you know how to prevent something or the severity of an illness you know nothing about? I was lucky enough to grow up in a time where I had access to education. My family members didn’t. When someone in my family had diabetes it was simply referred to as “so and so has sugar” likes it’s not that serious. African Americans specifically during slavery times got the scraps of the animals to eat, mainly the unhealthy parts. They used methods to cook what is now called “soul food”. So there are a lot of factors that make both African Americans and Native Americans so susceptible to diabetes.




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  1. Kelly Delorme says:

    I thought it was really interesting that you chose to discuss and analyze an illness that is prevalent among two ethnicities. To me, this indicates that diabetes isn’t more prevalent among these races because the people are African American or Native American, but because there are other factors causing this disproportionality. I think you’re absolutely right when you discussed the relationship between genetics and health. The “thrifty gene” developed over many years and generations in order to allow people to store fat in order to survive through scarcity and food shortages. Today, this gene is a maladaptation and leads to an increase in diabetes because these people tend to store more fat than they need. I also thought it was great that you considered socioeconomic status as a reason that African Americans and Native Americans experience more diabetes than other races. Wealth, income, and education are all huge factors that play into one’s health. I think another key factor to consider is lifestyle. Many African Americans and Native Americans don’t have access to proper health care, and they often don’t have good enough nutrition and exercise habits.

    I don’t think racial categories are useful in clinical trials, because the genes that encode people to look similar are a small number compared to all the genes that people possess. I think a more effective way of categorizing clinical trials would be to use genetics, culture, environment, and socioeconomic status. I think these factors are much more important to consider because they tend to play a much bigger role in racialized health disparities than race itself does. Race is a socially constructed idea, so I think it is important to consider the social factors that allow us to create racial lines between groups of people.

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