Skip to Content
News Releases

African-Americans Affected More Often by Diabetes

Disease Affects African-Americans More than Twice as Much as Whites

Columbia, February 27, 2006

The number of people living with diabetes is increasing dramatically in Tennessee. While diabetes affects all races, African-Americans are disproportionately affected. Diabetes was the fourth leading cause of death for Tennessee’s black community in 2004 and the sixth leading cause of death overall in the state. Hospitalizations, as well as complications that result from diabetes such as heart disease, stroke, blindness, lower limb amputations and severe kidney disease are also more common in African-Americans.

The growing problem of diabetes is Tennessee was highlighted during Governor Bredesen’s State of the State address earlier this month. Calling for a commitment to combat “obesity and the accompanying explosion of diabetes in our state,” Governor Bredesen stressed that lifestyle changes are a critical part of treatment.

Health Commissioner Kenneth S. Robinson, M.D., agrees: “Eating well, staying active most days of the week and living healthy are the keys to preventing and living with diabetes. Maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking and taking medicines as directed also play a significant role in the fight against diabetes. The best thing you can do for yourself and your children is to Respect Your Health! and take charge of your lifestyle.”

The following symptoms may signal the onset of diabetes: significantly increased thirst or appetite; frequent urination; fatigue; unexplained weight loss; slowly healing sores; dry, itchy skin; loss of feeling or tingling of the feet; and blurry eyesight.

Being overweight and physically inactive significantly increase the chance of having diabetes. Other risk factors include having given birth to at least one baby weighing at least nine pounds or having been diagnosed with gestational diabetes while pregnant. High blood pressure and cholesterol levels are also known to be associated with diabetes.

The best way to find out if you or a loved one has diabetes or is at risk for developing diabetes is to have a blood glucose test that will measure sugar levels in the blood. This simple test only requires a small amount of time and can be done at a doctor’s office. If you do not have a primary care provider, call your local health department to check availability.

Governor Bredesen will outline a plan next month to attack diabetes through a series of initiatives that build on the existing efforts within state government and private-sector campaigns. This includes efforts similar to the Tennessee Department of Health’s Respect Your Health! campaign that is currently underway.

Respect Your Health!, sponsored by the Tennessee Department of Health, is a seven week program that encourages Tennesseans to pledge to improve their health by developing and executing weekly exercise and food goals. Participants sign a pledge card, promising to try to include 30 minutes of physical activity every day; make healthy food choices and avoid high-fat foods; and develop existing or build new relationships with a primary care provider. While supplies last, a food diary and exercise log booklet, Respect Your Health! wristband and refrigerator magnet are available for participants. Sign up by visiting the Department of Health’s Web site at

For more information about diabetes or how to live healthy and reduce the risk of developing diabetes, visit the Tennessee Department of Health’s Web site or call your local health department. A list of local health departments is also available on the Department of Health’s Web site at index.html. Information about diabetes can also be found at the American Diabetic Association by visiting or calling 1-888-DIABETES.

For TennCare disenrollees with diabetes there is some assistance available through the health care safety net. For more information, please call the Health Options Hotline at 1-888-486-9355 or visit

Note: This is the third in a series of four media releases issued by the Tennessee Department of Health during Black History Month to address health issues in the African-American community.