Pima Indians and Type II Diabetes

Often the relationship between race, genetics, and health gets misunderstood, or twisted into something it is not. Genetics can be used in order to break someone down into their biological components. This can be used in order to determine an individuals health, or to better explain someones particular body, intelligence, or behaviors. One thing that genetics can not determine, which often people do not fully realize, is that genetics can not determine or decipher ones race.  There is not a particular gene that encodes race, and there is scientific proof that there is no such thing as biologically discrete races. However genetics, and health play an important role in medicine. Some people do carry genes that allow them to be more susceptible to some illness rather than others. However this is not based on race, and medicine sometimes uses the category of race in determining the health and treatment of individuals, by using this method, doctors might be under looking and avoiding other outsides influences that could instead be contributing to the illness. For example things such as unemployment, and annual income.

The health disparity that I choose to analyze was the increased amount of type II diabetes seen in the Pima Indian population compared to that in other cultures.  I identify with the Pima Indians because although I am not particularly Pima Indian decent, I am a small percent Native Indian myself. Therefore when I heard about this disparity, I was very interested in what was the underlying cause. It turns out that just like when it comes to determining the causes of many diseases there is both biological and environmental factors.  The Pima Indians have a genetic factor that causes them to be able to better process sugar and store fat. This is most likely due to the fact that many Pima Indians often did not have a continuous reliable food source, and so those who were able to store fat best survived longer than those that could not. Therefore eventually this gene was selected for and evolved into the genetic make-up of the Pima, leading them to be prone to diabetes. It was determined that insulin resistance was the largest predictor of type II diabetes.  However, environmental factors such as diet and exercise also play a significant role in the amount of diabetes seen amongst Pima populations.




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Bogardus, Clifton. “Insulin Resistance and Insulin Secretory Dysfunction as Precursors of Non-Insulin-Dependent Diabetes Mellitus: Prospective Studies of Pima Indians.” New England Journal of Medicine: 1988-1992.

This Post Has 1 Comment

  1. Alexis Rife says:

    I agree with your perspective on the relationship between race, genetics, and health. It is true that race cannot be scientifically proven, so it should not have as large an impact on the determination of one’s health. I also agree that the environment plays more of a role in one’s health than race, but you could have emphasized this more. Aside from genetics, I believe one’s environment – whether stressful, crowded, unsanitary, or otherwise – holds the greatest influence over a person’s health. I think racial categories may be somewhat helpful, especially in discovering a person’s origin or homeland. Racial clusters in different parts of the globe may have different diseases affecting them. I believe a better way to categorize and discuss different races would be by different regions of the world and color of skin. Finding a few random people with red-colored skin in the United States would be less significant than finding one large population of people with red-colored skin in India. Both color and location would narrow the broad description of race. Health disparities in these populations would be more significant and could be more accurately studied and diagnosed. Health disparities affecting only these populations may be more environmental in cause while disparities affecting people with red skin all over the globe may be caused more by genetics.

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