Diabetes takes its heaviest toll among minorities, House committee is told

April 07, 1992|By Cox News Service

WASHINGTON -- The births of three of her four children were complicated by diabetes, Joyce Knows His Gun said. The fifth was stillborn, and she has had no children since.

"In my opinion, the death of my daughter was a senseless one that could have been prevented with closer monitoring of my diabetes by my medical personnel and my own greater understanding and education on the disease," Mrs. Knows His Gun, a Northern Cheyenne, told lawmakers yesterday.

Native Americans, blacks and Hispanics account for an unusually large portion of the more than 14 million Americans, half of them unaware of it, who have non-insulin diabetes, the House Select Committee on Aging was told.

Non-insulin or Type II cases account for 90 percent or more of the cases of diabetes mellitus -- the leading cause of blindness and the fourth leading cause of death by disease in the United States. Each year,about 12,000 people go blind and 150,000 die from the complications of diabetes.

Minorities are more likely than whites to be poor and less likely to get regular medical help. Though diabetes cannot be cured yet, its symptoms can be alleviated and complications can be avoided through early detection and treatment.

Minorities in the highest risk group -- over 40, overweight and with diabetes in their family history -- are especially susceptible, according to the numbers, lines and bar graphs on the experts' color-coded charts.

Mrs. Knows His Gun, whose brother, Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, is the only American Indian in Congress, told the committee that she wanted to "personalize" the data on the charts.

"I have diabetes, my father had diabetes, I had two diabetic aunts who died from diabetic complications. I have two brothers with diabetes, one of them with severe heart problems due to diabetes," she said. "My children's father is diabetic, with both his mother and father dying from complications. The list goes on and on."

When she looks at her four children, she wonders, "Will they beat the odds?"

A similar pattern in Hispanic families, including his own, was described by actor Edward James Olmos. He expressed special concern that Hispanic women -- "our culture's last hope" -- are even more likely to have the disease than Hispanic men.

In the past five years, several federal programs have finally gotten under way or at least on the drawing boards for detecting, treating and doing research into diabetes among minorities, Dr. James Gavin of the American Diabetes Association said.

"However, I would be remiss if I did not honestly state that all of these programs are under-funded," Dr. Gavin testified.

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