Study finds that racial discrimination can increase diabetes risk

Discrimination can have a negative impact on health in a variety of ways. For the first time, researchers at the University of Minnesota took a closer look at the relationship between discrimination and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

(MGN Online)

“There is growing research showing that individuals who experience higher levels of discrimination are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than those who don’t experience discrimination. Cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes often go hand in hand, yet no one has examined whether or not higher levels of discrimination were associated with diabetes risk.

“This study fills an important gap in the literature,” said Kara Whitaker, Ph.D. and post-doctoral Fellow with the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. Whitaker authored the study, “Experiences of Discrimination and Incident Type 2 Diabetes: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA),” published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

“Unfortunately, acts of discrimination are still commonplace in today’s society. For example, discriminatory events at the University of Minnesota have increased since the recent election.

“It’s important for us to develop a better understanding of the long-term health consequences of discrimination. Once we can clearly illustrate the detrimental health effects of discrimination, hopefully that will mobilize policymakers to seek out interventions that promote societal-level change to reduce discrimination,” Whitaker said.

Whitaker and her colleagues examined if major experiences of discrimination and everyday discrimination (more subtle forms of day-to-day unfair treatment) were associated with the development of type 2 diabetes.

Their results showed that individuals who reported two or more major experiences of discrimination (such as being treated unfairly by the police) had a 34 percent increased risk of developing diabetes over nine years of follow-up, compared to those who reported no major experiences of discrimination.

Results also showed that everyday experiences of discrimination, such as being treated with less respect than other people, was not associated with the development of diabetes.

The study is unable to explain why major experiences of discrimination are associated with a higher risk of developing diabetes while minor experiences of discrimination are not, but it does point out that it may be easier to remember major forms of discrimination than it is to recall everyday discrimination.

While future studies are needed to confirm these findings, Whitaker said the results have some immediate implications for clinicians: “It may be beneficial for clinicians to ask patients about their experiences with discrimination as an additional method to identify individuals who may be at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease.”


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