In a recent study, researchers found something alarming: The ethnic and racial group at one of the highest risk for diabetes is also the group that’s least likely to get screened. Indeed, the study found that more than 50% of Asian Americans who should be tested regularly, simply don’t. This number is startling when you consider the steep rise in type 2diabetes in this group.
"Even after accounting for education, access to healthcare and other key factors, Asian Americans had 34 percent lower odds of being screened compared to non-Hispanic whites," said Elizabeth Tung, a professor at the University of Chicago, and the study’s lead author. "This may be an important driver of undiagnosed diabetes in this group."
Tung’s team analyzed phone survey data from 526,000 respondents. The survey asked questions on health risks, education on such risks, and compliance to preventative measures. They found that most racial groups, including non-Hispanic blacks and whites, Hispanics, and American Indians, and Alaskan Natives, scored well above 50 percent for receiving appropriate screening. By comparison, Asian Americans had the least percentage of screening.
The team wondered whether Asian Americans are adverse to screening tests across the board. But in a subgroup of Asian Americans who received screening for colon and breast cancer, the rates of diabetes screening are still low. This suggests there are other factors that must be at play besides the logistics or the technical nature of the tests.
The complacency is actually quite harmful. Asians are already at high risk for type 2 diabetes – around 21 percent of people this group are diagnosed with the chronic condition.
Of note, diabetes is one of the most common chronic disorders that is characterized by the body’s inability to regulate blood glucose levels. Type 2 diabetes is characterized by insufficient quantities of the natural hormone insulin. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 29 million Americans have diabetes. This figure is triple the amount reported in 1980. And of this number, about a quarter of diabetics don’t know about their condition.
So why aren’t Asian Americans getting properly screened for this seemingly preventable disease? Some researchers think that it may come down to a misconception that diabetes strikes only overweight people. That is, thinness may somehow offer a protection against diabetes. This thinking is, of course, unfounded – diabetes can strike regardless of the number on the scale. Yet, perhaps this is why a majority of Asian Americans think they are not at risk and don’t get screened.
"Asian Americans should confirm with their doctors that they have been screened for diabetes," Tung said. "Doctors shouldn't neglect to screen Asian Americans just because they appear to be thin."
Of note, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recently updated its guidelines, now recommending Asian Americans to get screened for diabetes if they are at least 45 years old and/or if their BMI is 23 or higher.
Additional sources: MNT, NPR