Can cultural adaptation increase diabetes risk for Hispanic kids?

March 17, 2015

Mexican-American children who show evidence of greater adaptation into American culture face significantly higher odds of being at high risk for Type 2 diabetes than Mexican-American children who do not similarly adapt.

Those are the findings of a study by UNT Health Science Center researchers involving 144 North Texas children aged 10 to 14. It demonstrates the need for further research, said Kimberly Fulda, DrPH, Principal Investigator on the study.

“Child obesity and Type 2 diabetes is a serious and growing health epidemic, especially among the Hispanic population,” Dr. Fulda said. “The results of this study show how important it is for us to explore the factors that are causing this disparity and find ways to promote good health among children.” The  UNTHSC research team measured the children’s degree of language and social acculturation by considering variables such as whether they spoke English, watched English TV shows and movies, befriended non-Hispanic whites, and preferred reading, writing and thinking in English.

To determine the children’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, researchers measured their glucose, blood pressure, body size and proportions, and checked for evidence of acanthosis nigricans, a skin condition that generally occurs in people who are at risk for obesity-related diabetes.

The results showed that as children adapted to a more “Anglo” culture, their odds of being at risk for Type 2 diabetes increased by approximately 43 percent between each acculturation level, said Dr. Fulda, Associate Professor of Family Medicine.

Reasons for the disparity are not yet known, Dr. Fulda said. However, societal and familial factors related to living in the United States that should be explored include fast-food consumption, sedentary behavior, fruit and vegetable consumption, socioeconomic status, parental education and parental acculturation.

A national study projects a 49 percent increase in adolescents with Type 2 diabetes by 2050, and 50 percent of those cases are expected to be Hispanic.

Dr. Fulda was joined in the project by Dr. Susan F. Franks, Randi P. Proffitt Leyva, Jose D. Retana, Dr. Shane Fernando and Dr. Nusrath Habiba. The study, conducted by the Texas Prevention Institute, NorTex and the UNTHSC Departments of Family Medicine and Pediatrics, was funded by a UNTHSC intramural grant.

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