Many Americans are aware of the impact that diabetes has on the African American community. Compared to the general population, African Americans are disproportionately affected by diabetes with 4.9 million, or 18.7 percent of all African Americans age 20 years or older having the disease. In addition, African Americans are 1.8 times more likely to have diabetes as non-Hispanic whites. Diabetes is associated with an increased risk for a number of serious, complications, and a new study may shed light on why the rates are continuing to rise.
The results of a large epidemiological study conducted at UC San Francisco suggest that sugar may also have a direct and independent connection to diabetes. It is the first study that provides detailed large-scale, population-based evidence for the idea that not all calories are equal from a diabetes-risk standpoint.
The researchers examined data on global sugar availability and diabetes rates from 175 countries over the past decade and found that increased sugar in a population’s food supply was linked to higher diabetes rates, independent of obesity rates. By using food-supply data from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization to estimate the availability of different foods in the 175 countries examined, as well as estimates from the International Diabetes Foundation on the prevalence of diabetes among 20- to 79-year-olds, they were able to determine that not only was sugar availability correlated to diabetes risk, but the longer a population was exposed to excess sugar, the higher its diabetes.
The study investigators, Sanjay Basu, MD, Ph.D., an assistant professor of medicine at the Stanford Prevention Research Center and the study’s lead author; and Robert Lustig, MD, a pediatric endocrinologist at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospita,l published their findings on Feb. 27 in PLOS ONE.
Their findings revealed that more sugar was correlated with more diabetes, specifically that for every additional 150 calories of sugar available per person per day, the prevalence of diabetes in the population rose 1 percent, even after controlling for other variables including obesity, physical activity, other types of calories and a number of economic and social variables.
To put this in simple terms, a 12-ounce can of soda contains about 150 calories of sugar. In comparison, an additional 150 calories of any type caused only a 0.1 percent increase in the population’s diabetes rate.