Black people have the same baseline risk of developing type 2 diabetes as Caucasians, according to “surprising” new research.
Previous studies have indicated that people of Black African origin are up to three times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes when compared to people of White European origin.
But it is now believed there is no genetic reason linking black people to the condition. Instead it comes down to risk factors that can be modified by lifestyle, such as body mass index (BMI) and blood pressure.
Senior study author Mercedes Carnetho, associate professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said: “Obesity is driving these differences. The findings surprised us, because for the past 20 years there was a narrative that there must be something we haven’t found that was causing this higher rate.”
The research team discovered that once they had stripped out a range of risk factors, both black and white people had the same chance of developing type 2 diabetes. The risk factors controlled for in the study were comprised of biological, neighborhood, psychosocial, socioeconomic, and behavioral factors during young adulthood.
The study involved 4,251 black and white men and women, who at the beginning of the trial did not have diabetes. An average follow-up of 24 years showed 189 white people and 315 black people developed diabetes.
The research team said the risk factors which had the biggest impact on a type 2 diabetes diagnosis were factors that can be modified such as BMI, waist circumference, fasting blood sugar levels, lipids, blood pressure and also lung function.
“Blacks gained more weight over time. It was the accumulation of this and other risk factors that eliminated the so-called mysterious cause of the disparity,” added Prof Carnethon.
Lead study author Michael Bancks, a postdoctoral fellow in preventive medicine at Feinberg, said: “To eliminate the higher rate of diabetes, everybody needs to have access to healthy foods, safe spaces for physical activity and equal economic opportunity to have enough money to afford these things and live in communities that offer this.”
The findings appear online in the journal JAMA.
Editor’s note: While obesity increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise reduces obesity and this subsequent risk. Visit our award-winning Low Carb Program for more information.

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