County-Level “Diabetes Belt” Carves a Swath through U.S. South

New data from US show in striking detail the social geography of disease. As Scientific American reports:

More than 18 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with diabetes, which costs an estimated $174 billion annually. Typically, local public health agencies carry out the initiatives to manage and prevent this chronic disease, but because prevalence figures are generally given on national and state levels, local workers cannot gain the traction—and funding—to rein in rates in their areas.

A new study drills down to the county level, revealing wide disparities within states and striking national patterns.

Many of the counties with the highest rates of diagnosed diabetes—higher than 11.2 percent of the population compared with the national average of 8.5 percent—are concentrated in 15 states and form an area the study’s authors have labeled the “diabetes belt” (after the so-called “stroke belt” that described U.S. Southeast in the 1960s).

New local data capture within-state variations. The 644 counties in the diabetes belt match up to known risk factors for the disease, including:

  • a high obesity rate (32.9 percent versus 26.1 percent nationally);
  • sedentary lifestyles (30.6 percent versus 24.8 percent);
  • lower education levels (24.1 percent with college degrees versus 34.3 percent) and
  • more non-Hispanic blacks (23.8 percent versus 8.6 percent).

Full article in SA here.