A government commissioned team of researchers has now identified a diabetes belt in the U.S. County-by-county mapping shows that the highest rates of diabetes cut two paths - one strung through Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia, and another running eastward from Louisiana through Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. This belt also touches parts of North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Texas, Arkansas, Ohio and Pennsylvania. High-diabetes pockets crop up in Oklahoma, Michigan, Arizona, the Dakotas and elsewhere. The belt includes 644 counties in 15 states with the highest diabetes rates.
The report appears online March 7 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine by the researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although this report does not distinguish between types of diabetes, nationally more than 90 percent of diabetes cases are type 2, also called adult-onset diabetes.
According to study co-author Lawrence Barker, a mathematical statistician at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, people living in the diabetes belt have many characteristics in common, including higher-than-average likelihood of being obese, African-American and leading a sedentary lifestyle. The areas also had below-average education levels with 24 percent of people holding a college degree, compared with 34 percent in the rest of the country.
Endocrinologist Judith Fradkin of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases in Bethesda said, “It’s really important from a public health perspective for counties and regions to recognize the health problems for which they are at particular risk.”
Barker explained that many of these risk factors are modifiable. Delineation of a diabetes belt will enable public health officials to target communities for specific programs aimed at curbing the disease. He suggested encouraging walking by installation of sidewalks in residential areas where none exist. Fradkin adds that there could be taxes on high-calorie beverages or a requirement for restaurants to post calorie counts of their dishes. To pull people out of a sedentary lifestyle, she suggests reduced rates for gymnasium memberships.
Not surprising experts, this new belt overlaps considerably with the “stroke belt” identified decades ago. Fradkin said both conditions are linked to high blood pressure and have other similar risk factors. However Indiana, which lies in the stroke belt, doesn’t have high rates of diabetes, Barker notes. Conversely, West Virginia lies firmly within the diabetes belt but not in the stroke belt.