Dr. Thomas Diaz: National Diabetes Month, a Call to Prevention



Diabetes is taking a devastating toll on individuals, families, communities, employers and the nation’s health care system, and it is a particularly serious problem among the U.S. Hispanic population.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 8 percent of the nation’s total population has diabetes; however, nearly 12 percent of Hispanics have been diagnosed with the disease.

An even more dramatic contrast exists when considering lifetime risk estimates for developing diabetes. According to the CDC, Hispanic females born in 2000 have greater than 50-percent likelihood of developing diabetes in their lifetime, compared with about 31-percent for non-Hispanic white and 49 percent for African-American females. Similarly, Hispanic males born in 2000 have a 45-percent risk of developing the disease, compared with more than 26 percent and 40 percent for non-Hispanic white and African-American males, respectively.

What accounts for these significant disparities of diabetes prevalence among Hispanics? The CDC notes that differences in access to quality care, social and cultural factors, and the genetic makeup of the Hispanic population in specific areas all play a role. Another problem is the prevalence of so-called “food deserts,” or areas that have few available venues for purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables, in lower-income neighborhoods.

While diabetes disproportionately affects Hispanics, the reality is that the disease affects everyone, regardless of age, sex, race or income. Truth is, if you live in the United States, chances are your life has been directly or indirectly touched by diabetes and its deadly complications, such as heart disease, kidney disease, blindness and limb amputation.  

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These diabetes and diabetes-related complications also place incredible budgetary stress on an already overburdened health care system. In 2010 diabetes cost the country an estimated $194 billion. If current trends continue, diabetes will account for an estimated 10 percent of total health care spending, or almost $500 billion a year by 2020.

The good news is that we can halt the progress of this deadly disease. CDC data suggest that 79 million Americans – 35 percent of the U.S. adult population – have prediabetes, meaning they are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, the largely preventable form of the disease. People with prediabetes, however, have an opportunity to significantly reduce their chances of developing this lifelong illness.  Engaging in exercise and losing just 5 percent of weight can reduce the risk of developing diabetes or heart attack risk by 58 percent.  

UnitedHealth Group offers a wealth of materials In English and Spanish on diabetes prevention and control.  Information on Latino Health Solutions’ includes a series of podcasts on healthy nutrition, exercise and stress management. OptumHealth’s behavioral-health Spanish website,, addresses the emotional components of living with diabetes and other chronic diseases.

Keeping diabetes at bay largely depends on the decisions we make every day – in our community, in the kitchen, in the street, at the office and in restaurants. This National Diabetes Month, let’s remember that acquiring and sharing sound information that helps us make those decisions is vital.

Dr. Thomas Diaz is the Medical Director for UnitedHealthcare.

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