Diabetes Increasing Along US-Mexico Border

Armen Hareyan's picture

Diabetes has become the leading cause of death in Mexico and the third-leading cause of death among those living along the U.S. side of the border, health officials from the United States and Mexico said today in presenting the results of a new study coordinated by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

Analyzing data from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, the study finds that type 2 diabetes is increasing throughout border area, along with risk factors for the disease. Some 1.1 million border residents 18 and older suffer from type 2 diabetes, and 836,000 are pre-diabetic. Nearly 22 percent of those with type 2 diabetes are unaware they have the disease.

"It is a serious problem when nearly a quarter of border residents who have diabetes do not know their health status. It means they cannot take the basic steps to prevent the progression of the disease and its complications," said Dr. Mar�a Teresa Cerqueira, Chief of PAHO's U.S.-Mexico Border Office.

The findings of the study were presented today at a Community Forum in El Paso, Texas, by representatives of PAHO's U.S.-Mexico Border Office, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Secretariat of Health (SSA) of Mexico, and more than 130 local and state governmental and nongovernmental organizations concerned about the growing public health burden of type 2 diabetes. The study is based on data collected between 2000 and 2002 in 16 U.S. counties and 28 Mexican municipalities.

According to survey data in the study, only four in 10 residents with type 2 diabetes monitored their blood sugar levels during the 12 months prior to the study.

"Poor disease management and control produce higher rates of complications from diabetes, leading to lowered quality of life, physical disability and earlier mortality," said Dr. Agustin Lara, Director of the Elderly Health Program of Mexico's Secretariat of Health.


Dr. Rosalba Ruiz, coordinator of the PAHO Diabetes Project, noted that in 2002, health care for people with diabetes cost some $13,243 per capita per year. "Considering that diabetes alone represents 11 percent of U.S. health care expenditures, there is a very serious concern that in a short period of time the health systems in both countries will be overwhelmed by the needs of those who suffer from this disease."

Among other findings, the study shows that 90 percent of border residents suffering from diabetes are overweight or obese: 3 out of 10 are overweight, and 6 out of 10 are obese.

"Obesity and overweight are among the most important risk factors of type 2 diabetes, which is a preventable condition," said Dr. Cerqueira.

The study also finds that 1.8 million border residents overall suffer from hypertension, and among people with diabetes, 36 percent suffer from hypertension.

About 61 percent of diabetes sufferers in the border region have at least one other family member with the disease, according to the study. Family history of diabetes is an important risk factor, noted Dr. Cerqueira, and people with such a history should self-monitor their health status and seek advice during routine health checkups to detect subclinical stages of the disease.

PAHO and the World Health Organization recommend primary disease prevention, good nutrition, and physical activity as part of a healthy lifestyle that can prevent or delay the development of diabetes and reduce the need for health care services to treat its complications.

The border diabetes research project is the first to analyze the U.S.-Mexico border region as a single epidemiological unit. Researchers selected a representative sample from the entire population 18 years and older on both sides of the border. The study included a survey with 65 questions and clinical measures for weight, height, waist circumference, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels.