Q+A: What In Our Neighborhoods Puts Us at Risk for Diabetes?

An overhead view of a city neighborhood

An overhead view of a city neighborhood

Diabetes is much more than just having to avoid certain foods. The risk of blindness, kidney failure and heart disease, among many other issues, are all much higher for diabetic people.

Like most diseases in the United States, diabetes does not affect everyone equally. Black people and Latinos are both around twice as likely to have diabetes as whites. But some recent research suggests that there be may be more to the inequities we’re seeing than race — such as where we live.

So it bears asking: What in our neighborhoods determines our diabetes risk?

That’s what Leslie McClure, PhD, and her team (together with researchers at New York University, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Geisinger Institute) hope to find out, thanks to a new $2.5 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Funded for five years, the “Community Characteristics Associated with Geographic Disparities in Diabetes” study take a variety of items into account to determine why diabetes risk is related to where you live.

McClure, a professor in the Dornsife School of Public Health, explains what she hopes the research will reveal.

Obviously the team’s study will look deeply into this but, right now, how much of a factor would you say a person’s locale is when it comes to diabetes risk?

It’s known that where someone lives has an impact on the prevalence of diabetes, as well as how well they can control their disease if they have it.

What is not known is why local factors have influence on these health outcomes. There are a lot of potential reasons, such as neighborhood food and physical activity access, racial segregation and socioeconomic status.

What would be the positives, on a population health level, if we were able to lower diabetes levels?

In addition to cost reductions by reducing new diabetes cases and better control of diabetes among those with the disease already, another goal would be to reduce geographical disparities in diabetes. This is part of the CDC’s Healthy People 2020 initiative: “Reduce the disease burden of diabetes mellitus (DM) and improve the quality of life for all persons who have, or are at risk for, DM.”

Philadelphia has the sugar-sweetened beverage tax that can positively affect diabetes rates and the outcomes for people with it. But what more could be done at local levels?

That is what this research is really aimed at finding out! It is great to know what factors influence health at the community level, but the critical next step is to try to translate that into local-level changes that can reduce disease and disparities.

Our research is hoping to find targets that can then lead to changes that will reduce the rate of diabetes and disparities within that population.

Any media interested in talking to McClure should contact Frank Otto at 215.571.4244 or fmo26@drexel.edu.

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