Hispanic/Latino Americans and Type 2 Diabetes

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Learn about type 2 diabetes risk and tips for prevention and management.

People of certain racial and ethnic groups are more likely to develop prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, including African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, and Asian Americans. Learn why Hispanic/Latino risk is higher, and some ways to prevent type 2 diabetes or manage diabetes if you already have it.

Hispanic/Latino Americans make up a diverse group that includes people of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South and Central American, and other Spanish cultures, and all races. Each has its own history and traditions, but all are more likely to have type 2 diabetes (17%) than non-Hispanic whites (8%).

But that 17% is just an average for Hispanic/Latino American groups. The chance of having type 2 diabetes is closely tied to background. For example, if your heritage is Puerto Rican, you’re about twice as likely to have type 2 diabetes as someone whose background is South American.

Diabetes Affects Hispanics/Latinos More

Over their lifetime, US adults overall have a 40% chance of developing type 2 diabetes. But if you’re a Hispanic/Latino American adult, your chance is more than 50%, and you’re likely to develop it at a younger age. Diabetes complications also hit harder: Hispanics/Latinos have higher rates of kidney failureexternal icon caused by diabetes as well as diabetes-related vision loss pdf icon[PDF – 327 KB] and blindness.

Higher Risk

Why the greater risk for type 2 diabetes and its complications? These factors can play a part:

  • Genetics: Hispanics/Latinos have genes that increase their chance of developing type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is very complicated, though, and the connection isn’t completely clear.
  • Food: In some Hispanic/Latino cultures, foods can be high in fat and calories. Also, family celebrations may involve social pressure to overeat, and turning down food could be seen as impolite.
  • Weight/activity: Hispanics/Latinos have higher rates of obesity and tend to be less physically active than non-Hispanic whites. And some see overweight as a sign of health instead of as a health problem.

It’s important to keep in mind that these risk factors are general and may not apply to individual Hispanic/Latino people or specific Hispanic/Latino groups.

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Cook up healthy versions of family favorites.

Managing Diabetes

If you have diabetes, you need to make choices and take action every day to manage your blood sugar levels. That includes eating healthy food, being physically active most days, taking medicine if needed, and getting regular checkups.

Diabetes is challenging for anyone to manage, but if you’re Hispanic/Latino you may have additional barriers, including:

  • Communication: If you can’t communicate fully with your doctors or they don’t understand your values and preferences, you’re less likely to follow treatment instructions and make lifestyle changes.
  • Culture: You may put the needs of your family before your own health needs. You may want to use natural or traditional medicines instead of standard diabetes treatments. You may also have heard that taking insulin will cause diabetes complications (this isn’t true).

For help dealing with daily diabetes care, ask your doctor for a referral to diabetes self-management education and support (DSMES) services. DSMES has many benefits, from helping improve blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels to enhancing quality of life.

Help could also be as close as the dinner table. Hispanic/Latino people are known for their strong family connections, and for sharing meals together at home. When a family member has to change what he or she eats to manage diabetes, it affects the whole family. This can be an opportunity for everyone to make healthy changes, which is especially important for kids. Hispanic/Latino children and teens are at higher risk for type 2 diabetes too, and learning healthy eating habits early gives them the best chance to prevent it.

Type 2 Diabetes is Common

More than half of Hispanic/Latino American adults are expected to develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime.

Prediabetes

Hispanic/Latino people are also more likely to have prediabetes. With prediabetes, blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. If you have prediabetes, you’re at higher risk for getting type 2 diabetes and other serious health problems, including heart disease and stroke.

Prediabetes usually doesn’t have any symptoms, so finding out your risk by taking the 1-minute prediabetes risk test (available in Spanish and English) is an important first step, especially if you have other prediabetes risk factors. If you get a high score (5 or above), visit your doctor and get a simple blood sugar test to confirm your result.

If you have prediabetes, joining a lifestyle change program offered as part of CDC’s National Diabetes Prevention Program (National DPP) can help you prevent or delay type 2 diabetes and improve your overall health. You’ll learn the skills needed to lose a modest amount of weight through healthy eating and being more physically active. (Classes are available in Spanish and English.)

A modest amount of weight loss is about 10 to 14 pounds (4.5 to 6.3 kg) for a 200-pound (90.6 kg) person. Getting at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week, such as brisk walking, also is important. That’s just 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.

In the lifestyle change program, you’ll work with a trained coach and share experiences with others who have the same goals and challenges. Some classes welcome other adult family members to attend along with you for support. Learn more about the National DPP lifestyle change program, and find a class near you (or online).

Page last reviewed: September 15, 2019