The Burden of Diabetes on the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Community

As a physician for more than 30 years, I have seen the tremendous burden that diabetes places on patients and their loved ones. As November marks National Diabetes Month, let us recommit to educating ourselves and our communities about how to prevent, manage, and treat diabetes.

Diabetes affects nearly 26 million Americans, but the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community is at particular risk. In fact, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are more than three times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes, compared to non-Hispanic whites. This is due to higher rates of risk factors such as being overweight and obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. Within the U.S. Pacific Islands themselves, the prevalence of overweight and obesity exceeds 90 percent and diabetes approaches 50 percent in some areas.

I encourage all Americans, including Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, to take advantage of preventive care, which is critical to improving health and outcomes and identifying early signs of disease or risk factors. The Affordable Care Act offers quality health insurance to uninsured Americans, including nearly 240,000 uninsured Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

The law ensures that Americans at higher risk for developing type-2 diabetes can receive diabetes screenings, diet counseling, and obesity screenings with no out-of-pocket costs. Additionally, screening for gestational diabetes is available with no co-payment for women 24 to 28 weeks pregnant. Beginning in 2014, Americans cannot be denied health coverage because they have diabetes or any other pre-existing health condition.

Additional initiatives, such as First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move program, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s National Diabetes Prevention Program, and the National Diabetes Education Program (a partnership of the National Institutes of Health and the CDC) are helping Americans of all ages take action to improve their health and that of the nation. Help spread the word on the importance of preventing and managing diabetes, so that all Americans can live their full potential for health.

Howard K. Koh, MD, MPH, is the Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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