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Hispanics More Vulnerable to Complications of Diabetes

By Judy McBride
September 21, 2000

New findings underscore the need to better educate U.S. Hispanics on how to prevent diabetes or minimize its impact. A study of elderly Hispanics living in Massachusetts shows that those who have diabetes are more likely to lose muscle and the ability to move around with ease or take care of basic needs, such as eating, dressing, bathing and toileting.

These newly recognized disorders--muscle wasting and functional impairment--increase the list of known complications that may result from uncontrolled blood sugar. They include heart disease, blindness, kidney failure and nerve damage in the extremities, according to study leader Carmen Castaneda. She is a physician and scientist at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, which is funded by USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

Castaneda and colleagues Odilia I. Bermudez and Katherine L. Tucker studied 556 Hispanic elders, ranging in age from 60 to 92, as well as 158 non-Hispanic white subjects living in the same neighborhoods across Massachusetts for comparison.

Diabetes is far more prevalent among U.S. Hispanics than among non-Hispanic whites and African Americans, explains Castaneda. And it is more severe, she noted, judging from the number of Hispanics in the study who use insulin rather than dietary changes or less potent drugs to control their blood sugar.

This group consumed significantly more protein and calories than the non-Hispanic white diabetics, but it did not translate to higher serum albumen levels. Because higher albumen levels are recognized as a general indicator of good health and nutrition, the findings suggests that more advanced diabetes among Hispanics increases their risk of inadequate nutrition.

Castaneda and her colleagues emphasize the need for the public health sector to educate Hispanics and their health care providers about the serious consequences of diabetes and the need for dietary and lifestyle changes that can prevent it or lessen its impact.

Scientific contact: Carmen Castaneda, Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston, Mass., phone (617) 556-3081, fax (617) 556-3083,