Within the Hispanic-American community the numbers are even starker. According to the American Diabetes Association, the rates of diagnosed diabetes by race or ethnic background are:

  • 7.6 percent of non-Hispanic whites

  • 9.0 percent of Asian Americans

  • 12.8 percent of Hispanics (8.5 percent for Central and South Americans 9.3 percent for Cubans 13.9 percent for Mexican Americans 14.8 percent for Puerto Ricans)

  • 13.2 percent of non-Hispanic blacks

  • 15.9 percent of American Indians/Alaskan Natives

Why is diabetes a particular problem for the Hispanic community? The answers are varied and complex, as is everything that has to do with diabetes. However, there are some commonalities worth exploring:

  • Risk factors. Genetics and race play a role in diabetes. Hispanics may be white, Native American or black. The impact of socioeconomic status (education and income) may also contribute to the problem. Many in the community may have limited access to health insurance and educational resources that explain diabetes.

  • Obesity. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, in 2011 Hispanic Americans were 1.2 times as likely to be obese than Non-Hispanic Whites. And, among Mexican American women, 78 percent are overweight or obese, as compared to only 60.3 percent of the non-Hispanic White women. From 2009 - 2010 Mexican American children were 1.6 times more likely to be overweight as Non-Hispanic White Children.

  • Diet. Since, according to the ADA, many Latino dishes include beans, rice and tortillas, all of which are high in carbohydrates, portion control become a very important factor in managing a healthy diet. Other concerns are calorie-dense foods, added sugars and fats—particularly sugar-sweetened beverages, which are seeing increases in Latin America and the U.S. and present a risk factor for metabolic syndrome and diabetes.

The good news

Against this seemingly bleak backdrop are a great deal of positive news and strategies.And there are some simple fixes to the staple diet that can yield positive effects when it comes to delaying or preventing a diabetes diagnosis:

  • Choose fresh seafood, lean poultry as protein sources

  • Serve brown rice instead of white rice

  • Manage portion size, ½ the plate should be filled with vegetables

  • Eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages

  • For appetizers, choose fresh salsa or black bean dip

  • Modify traditional Latin dishes to make them healthier

Seeking help

Because part of the problem may be a lack of understanding and awareness of this disease, see a diabetes educator.

Diabetes educators teach a core curriculum of healthy eating, being active, monitoring blood glucose, taking medications as prescribed, problem solving, reducing risks and healthy coping. The great news here is that diabetes education helps people with the disease to stay healthy, and it may have a similar effect on caregivers and family members who will learn to monitor their own behaviors.

Diabetes education may be one of the best ways to reverse the cultural trend. And of utmost importance for the medical community is understanding that the Hispanic community is not a monolith. Within the community are people of diverse origins and backgrounds. Understanding these differences, and having a fundamental cultural competency, will be essential to reducing the disproportionate rates of diabetes among Hispanics.