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There’s no denying that Diabetes is a worldwide epidemic – the condition was found to affect the wellbeing of 370 million people across the globe last year – but 50% of these cases came from Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific. According to a study conducted in New York City, Asian Americans have the highest prevalence of having diabetes or pre-diabetes, with one in every two adults of Asian descent having diabetes or at risk of the disease.
If your body is unable to produce insulin, or unable to properly use and store glucose, this is what’s known as diabetes. Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas, which is important for your wellness as it helps glucose get into your cells and turn into energy. Usually, your body turns the food you eat into glucose, and the glucose is then used as energy. However, when you have diabetes, this glucose isn’t absorbed but instead builds up in your bloodstream, reaching dangerously high levels.
Diabetes breaks down into two major types; type 1 and type 2. In the case of type 1 diabetes, which is often caused by genetic factors, your body completely stops producing insulin. With type 2 diabetes, which is more related to lifestyle factors, your body is unable to produce insulin and/or it cannot use insulin properly. Of those of Asian American descent with diabetes, up to 95% of cases are type 2.
So why is the disease so prevalent among this population group? Asian Americans who are overweight, have a family history of diabetes, or have a personal history of pre-diabetes or gestational diabetes (diabetes occurring only during pregnancy) are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. More and more Asian Americans have adopted a less active lifestyle and diet of Western food that is low in fiber, high in fat and calories, which has further contributed to the epidemic of type 2 diabetes in Asian Americans.
The problem that then arises is that language barriers and a lack of culturally appropriate diabetes materials make it more difficult for some Asian Americans to achieve good diabetes control. More needs to be done to produce health care providers who understand their cultural values and the unique cultural challenges that Asian Americans may face. That way, this high risk population group can receive individualised treatment, as well as better prevention strategies.