Obese Black Teens At High Risk For Diabetes, Study Suggests

March 01, 1999

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A new study suggests that obese Black teenagers have a greater risk of developing diabetes as adults than do their white counterparts.

Researchers found significantly higher levels of three indicators for the onset of type II diabetes in obese Black adolescents, compared to those of obese white adolescents.

"There are racial and ethnic differences in glucose metabolism that put obese Black adolescents at a greater risk for type II diabetes," said Dara Schuster, assistant professor of internal medicine at Ohio State. "Our results show a need for early aggressive weight management in Black teens."

A person with type II diabetes -- sometimes called adult-onset diabetes -- doesn't produce enough insulin to metabolize blood sugar, or glucose. This causes blood sugar to build up in the blood stream, which can cause problems like hyperglycemia. According to the American Diabetes Association, a person can inherit a tendency to develop type II diabetes, but it usually takes another factor, like obesity, to bring on the disease. About 15 million Americans have this form of diabetes. The study appears in a recent issue of the American Journal of the Medical Sciences.

Schuster and her colleagues separated the non-diabetic teenagers into four groups -- seven obese Black teens; nine obese white teens; 15 lean Black teens; and 29 lean white teens. The researchers tested each group on two separate days for glucose tolerance, insulin resistance and C-peptide levels -- all indicators of adult-onset diabetes.

On the first day, each teenager was given glucose orally. At least seven days later, the subjects underwent an intravenous glucose tolerance test. Giving them glucose intravenously allowed for a more accurate reading of insulin resistance and glucose metabolism, Schuster said.

After each test, the researchers drew blood samples at timed intervals to test for glucose tolerance, insulin metabolism and C-peptide levels. They compared the results of each group and found that the obese Black adolescents fared far worse in glucose tolerance and insulin metabolism compared to the other three groups, even the obese white teenagers. "The glucose, insulin and C-peptide levels in the lean groups looked exactly the same after each test," Schuster said. "While the obese white teens had higher insulin, sugar and C-peptide levels, they weren't much different from the lean groups. Their levels weren't nearly as abnormal as what we saw in the obese Black children."

Within the first five minutes of receiving glucose intravenously, insulin and C-peptide levels were at least twice as high in the obese Black group than they were in the obese white group. "Obesity in the Black children had a much more detrimental effect on glucose metabolism than it did in the white children," Schuster said.

Other researchers included Craig Kien, professor of pediatrics, and Kwame Osei, professor of internal medicine, both at Ohio State. The research was funded by the Davis Scholarship Fund of Ohio State and the Central Ohio Diabetes Association.

Ohio State University

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