DIABETES IN L.A. CONTINUES TO CLIMB BLACKS, LATINOS ARE ESPECIALLY HARD HIT.
Diabetes among Los Angeles County adults continued to increase, especially among Latinos and blacks, health officials said Monday.
About 600,000 adults, or 8.8 percent of the population, reported having diabetes in 2005, the last year for which data were available. That's also up from 6.6 percent in 1997, said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of public health for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
The survey also revealed that diabetes rates among Latinos and blacks were nearly double the rate for whites and Asians/Pacific Islanders.
But researchers believe the rate of diabetes is underreported, saying many residents may not even know they have it.
"The growing number of persons with diabetes is particularly tragic because the most common form of this disease, type 2 diabetes, can often be prevented through maintaining a healthy weight and active lifestyle," Fielding said.
Diabetes often goes hand in hand with weight. Health experts found that among adults with diabetes, 41 percent were considered obese. Between 1997 and 2005, the percent of obese adults in Los Angeles County increased from 14 percent to 21 percent.
Health officials also say the problem stems in part from residents living in low-income areas where fresh fruits and vegetables are unavailable. Residents living in dense neighborhoods where supermarkets are few and far between resort to fast-food restaurants or small, mini-markets, where produce is largely unavailable, rotten or too expensive, health officials have said.
In a San Fernando Valley health report released last month, 13 percent of all adults in 2005 said they ate five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, down from 13.2 percent in 2002 and 2003. In 2004, diabetes was the seventh-leading cause of death in the Valley, particularly among residents in Glendale, Van Nuys, North Hollywood and Pacoima.
"We need to not only stop the continuing increase in this serious disease, (but also) we need to reduce the disparities so that the disease burden does not fall disproportionately on specific groups," Fielding said.
Diagnosed with diabetes in 2001, County Board of Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said he hopes residents pay attention to the findings.
"The consequences of neglecting this disease are extremely serious, including blindness, amputation, kidney failure, heart attack and stroke," Yaroslavsky said.
Among clients at the Northeast Valley Health Corporation, based in the San Fernando Valley, diabetes is becoming too common.
"It's presenting itself in the Hispanic community and we are concerned about it," said Gayle Schachne, director for the San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valley Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or the WIC Program. The program is one of the largest in the nation, with 67,825 participants.
"We are concerned with the amount of sugary juices people are drinking," she said.
But dietitians with the program, operated locally inside the Northeast Valley Health Corporation, have come up with two bilingual recipe books that promote healthy food.
"It's really about taking simple foods and creating recipes such as black bean mango salsa," Schachne said. And today local women will join those from across the nation in a walk to promote breast-feeding.
"A baby that is breast-fed for a year is less likely to develop obesity, diabetes and other issues that crop up," Schachne said. "A mother who takes the time to breast-feed her baby, will really watch the way their child eats."
The public health department also is recommending several strategies to help residents change their eating habits, including stocking county vending machines with healthier snacks and drinks; increasing the availability of affordable, nourishing food at corner stores in low-income neighborhoods; and encouraging restaurants to provide nutrition information on their menus.