Black Americans and Mexican Americans typically develop type 2 diabetes up to seven years earlier than their white counterparts, a new study finds.
In all, more than 25% of adults in the two groups reported being diagnosed with diabetes before age 40, and 20% didn't know they had the disease.
Researchers said the findings highlight the need to address economic and social conditions that underlie health status. They added that further study should consider earlier screening for at-risk groups.
"The earlier you can screen, the better, but the biggest barrier to screening is the trade-off for cost and benefit," said study co-author Dr. Sadiya Khan, an assistant professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. "Screening too early when a disease is not prevalent is not cost-effective."
While most adults are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at around age 50, among the more than 3,000 study participants, Black adults and Mexican Americans were diagnosed four to seven years earlier on average than white adults.
The researchers said these differences mean that screening should start earlier in Black and Mexican American populations.
"The earlier you identify disease can make screening have the most impact when intervention may have greater benefit," Khan said in a university news release. "Not doing so may contribute to substantial disparities in diabetes outcomes."
The burden of diabetes has shifted earlier in the life span, the study found.
Co-author Michael Wang, a fourth-year medical student at Northwestern, noted that 16% of Black Americans and 21% of Mexican Americans with diabetes in this study reported a diagnosis before age 35.
"[This] suggests that reaching young adults in these groups for preventive care is needed to address a critical period when diabetes is developing," Wang said in the release.
The study analyzed federal health and nutrition data for 2011 to 2018.
"Unless your blood sugar climbs to an alarming level where you're experiencing fatigue, frequent urination and symptoms of hyperglycemia, your diabetes may remain undetected for quite a while," Khan said. "We, as physicians, are always telling people to 'know your numbers,' which has historically been about blood pressure and cholesterol, but it should be expanded to include HbA1C."
HbA1C is a measure of average blood sugar levels over two to three months.
The findings were published online Sept. 7 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
Learn more about type 2 diabetes from the American Diabetes Association.
SOURCE: Northwestern University, news release, Sept. 7, 2021