The Asian American Population and Diabetes

The Asian-American population faces a higher risk of diabetes than Caucasians. Increasingly, these cases are undiagnosed because the first warning sign, obesity, is not usually found in Asian Americans. Most of these cases of diabetes are diagnosed after one or more complications have developed. Most Asians are not obese, so they have no early warning sign until their vision blurs, they are urinating often, or are thirsty all the time. The difference may be where they carry their excess fat. An “apple” shape has an increased risk factor in developing diabetes, and this is where Asians carry their excess fat.

Obesity rose over 80 percent in the public, and diabetes increased by 50 percent. In contrast, only four percent of the Asian-American population is obese, but diabetes percentages were higher.

One cause of undiagnosed diabetes in this group is the language barrier. Those patients with a language barrier were not controlling the disease as well as others. Researchers estimate that ten percent of Asian Americans have diabetes. The language barrier and inability to understand the disease or how to control it, is a contributing cause for uncontrolled diabetes. It is important to bridge the education gap so they can understand the medications they are put on, and the testing method for blood glucose monitoring. Often, even with a translator there is difficulty in understanding the medical terms and testing methods.

Many times, the programs and educational seminars they attended are geared to the Western world. When diets are discussed, they often do not include those foods that Asian Americans have in their diets. In the Asian culture, people do not share what they consider inappropriate. Most will not discuss their health unless they are questioned.

For example, a recent program aimed at Asian American began with a short talk about the early signs of diabetes, blood sugar levels, and diets. When presented with a typical meal served on a plate, the participants agreed the food was not what they normally ate.

An educational bridge must be built so the minorities in our population are able to understand not only diabetes, but also many other health related topics. Translators often can’t translate our Western words and terms so other minorities can understand them. Their hesitation to discuss personal health with doctors or family members also hinders the diagnosis if diabetes and other life threatening diseases.

Family members play an important part in watching for signs of diabetes. Talking to parents, aunts and uncles, and older siblings might help in controlling the rising increase of diabetes in our Asian-American population. An educated minority population would reduce the risk of undiagnosed diabetes. Watching for symptoms, talking about their health, and making doctor appointments for them is a good start.

Several states are planning informational seminars to address the problem of language barriers and health. Information will be given in English and their native language. There is hope this will allow more information to be given to those who are most at risk.