Getting to The Heart of Diabetes

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About 3.2 million African Americans have diabetes, but a third of them don’t know it(1). Many also don’t understand their risk for cardiovascular disease(2)–the leading cause of diabetes–related death . At least 65 percent of people with diabetes will die of some form of heart or blood–vessel disease.

Most people with diabetes (90 to 95 percent) have Type 2 diabetes, a progressive disease that develops when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or doesn’t efficiently use the insulin it produces (known as insulin resistance). Patients with diabetes have the daily challenge of controlling blood–glucose levels to prevent or delay the onset of many life–threatening health complications.

The American Heart Association lists diabetes as one of the six major risk factors for cardiovascular disease, which include high blood pressure, cholesterol disorders and high triglycerides, obesity and physical inactivity(3). In fact, the heart–disease death–rate of adults with diabetes is two to four times higher than adults without diabetes. These risk factors are particularly important among African Americans because cardiovascular disease is their leading cause of death, killing more than 100,000 annually.

The good news is that lifestyle changes can help improve diabetes control and prevent heart disease. Even small changes in behavior–like eating the right foods, exercising (such as walking) and carefully following the correct use of prescribed medication–can help control diabetes and reduce the risk for heart disease and stroke.

Over 80 percent of people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes are overweight(4). Among non–Hispanic blacks age 20 and older, 77.2 percent of women and 62.9 percent of men are overweight or obese. Physical inactivity, which contributes to overweight and obesity, is more prevalent among older people, African Americans and Hispanics. Increasing physical activity to at least 30 minutes a day for five days a week, losing 5 to 10 pounds, or doing both can reduce the risk for heart disease and stroke and help manage diabetes.

The Heart Of Diabetes is a national education and action program developed by the American Heart Association to help people reduce their risk for cardiovascular disease. This free program works by first arming people with the knowledge to better control their disease, then helping them put what they’ve learned into action. Individuals who enroll will receive the Game Plan To A Healthy Life, a journal of simple, everyday physical–activity and nutrition tips to help manage diabetes and reduce the risk of getting it; a ledger to track their progress; and an educational brochure on diabetes, cardiovascular disease and insulin resistance.

People with Type 2 diabetes who wish to join The Heart Of Diabetes program can call the American Heart Association toll–free at 1–800–AHA–USA1 (1–800–242–8721) or visit

Dr. Courtney Shelton is an internist with Primary Care Specialists in Atlanta, Ga. Originally from Detroit, Dr. Shelton obtained his undergraduate degree and his medical degree from Michigan State University. He completed his residency training in both pediatrics and internal medicine at Michigan State University. Dr. Shelton has been in Atlanta for five years and enjoys getting to know his patients. The majority of his practice addresses diabetes, including prevention and treatment.


Unless otherwise noted, facts and statistics in this article are from the American Heart Association’s Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics – 2004 Update, or the statistical fact sheet, "African Americans and Cardiovascular Diseases." The term "African American" refers to non–Hispanic blacks, and the term "whites" refers to non–Hispanic whites.

  1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases Web site. "Diabetes in African Americans."
  2. Roper/Starch Worldwide. American Heart Association’s Insulin Resistance Survey. December 2000. p. 9.
  3. National Institute of Diabetes, and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Diabetes Statistics (NIH Publication No. 02–3892, March 2002). National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Bethesda, Md.
  4. National Diabetes Education Program Web site. "Be Smart About Your Heart. Control the ABCs of Diabetes."

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