U.S. ‘Diabetes Belt’ Is Identified

March 8, 2011

Back in the 1960s, U.S.  health officials pinpointed the geographic area where the most strokes occurred, defining it as  the “stroke belt” to better understand the causes of that medical condition.  Now in April’s issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers have been able to identify a “diabetes belt”  of 644 counties in 15 U.S. states. Located primarily in the southeastern part of the country, the belt defines where diabetes care and prevention are most needed.

“Identifying a diabetes belt by counties allows community leaders to identify regions most in need of efforts to prevent type 2 diabetes and to manage existing cases of the disease,” said lead investigator Dr. Lawrence E. Barker of the  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. “Although many risk factors for type 2 diabetes can’t be changed, others can. Community design that promotes physical activity, along with improved access to healthy food, can encourage the healthy lifestyle changes that reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.”

Data were collected throughout the U.S. By comparing demographics and risk factors such as gender, age, education, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, and race/ethnicity, researchers found four factors that distinguished the diabetes belt from the rest of the country.

  •  Population of the diabetes belt counties contained substantially more non-Hispanic African Americans compared with the rest of the country; about 23.8% for the diabetes belt, while the rest of the country was at 8.6%.
  • Prevalence of obesity was greater in the diabetes belt than in the rest of the U.S: 32.9% vs. 26.1%.
  • Sedentary lifestyle was greater in the diabetes belt than in the rest of the U.S.: 30.6% vs. 24.8% for the rest of the nation.
  •  And the proportion of people with a college degree was smaller in the diabetes belt.

The belt includes portions of the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia, as well as the entire state of Mississippi.

Researchers also noted, almost one-third of the difference in the number of diabetes cases between the diabetes belt and the rest of the U.S. is associated with sedentary lifestyle and obesity.

“People who live in the diabetes belt will reduce their chance of developing type 2 diabetes if they are more active physically and, for those who are overweight or obese, if they lose weight,” Barker said. “Taking these steps will eventually lower the prevalence of diabetes within the diabetes belt.”