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Mexican-American Diabetes Studied

      MEXICO CITY (AP) - Mexican-Americans in San Antonio, Texas, are almost twice as likely to develop diabetes than Mexicans living in Mexico City, apparently because of American lifestyles, authors of a study released Sunday said.

      Eating and exercise habits were pegged as reasons for the difference in type-2 diabetes rates among low-income groups in the two cities. The San Antonio group was also more likely to have high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

      ``This really does support the notion that U.S. lifestyles are trending in an unfavorable direction,'' said Dr. Michael P. Stern, one of the authors and head of the clinical epidemiology department at the University of Texas Health Center.

      ``Mexicans were found to be leaner, to eat less fat and more carbohydrates and to exercise more than their San Antonio counterparts,'' Stern said, thus lowering risk factors such as obesity.

      The differences may have to do with San Antonians eating higher-fat flour tortillas rather than traditional corn-based ones, or eating more fast foods.

      The Texas group got slightly more leisure-time exercise, but that was far outweighed by the increased physical work Mexico City residents do on their jobs.

      The study adds an environmental factor to research into why Mexican-Americans are about 21/2 times as likely as non-Hispanic Americans to develop diabetes, by comparing two groups of similar genetic backgrounds but different environments.

      About one in 10 Mexican-Americans age 20 and older is diabetic, compared to 4 percent for non-Hispanic U.S. whites.

      Findings published earlier this year indicate one gene may play a role among Mexican-Americans, but that it''s not entirely genetics, according to Stern. ``Genes need an environment to be expressed,'' he said.

      The study, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, shows the gap between the two groups is widest among older people and more narrow among younger ones, leading experts to suspect that Mexican lifestyles are becoming more like American ones: unhealthy.

      In the United States, Stern said, ``we need public health programs to convince people to eat less fat and keep their weight under control.''

      As for Mexico, he said there is ``a chance to intervene and stop this trend before it becomes full blown.''

      The study, presented at the 17th International Diabetes Federation congress in Mexico City, followed groups in the two cities over periods ranging from six to eight years to see if they developed diabetes.

      It took into account pre-existing risk factors, some of which were worse in Mexico City, while others were worse in San Antonio. Mexico City had lower levels of good cholesterol and higher insulin levels, for example.

      Better health care in San Antonio, which may keep diabetics alive longer and thus in study groups, may play a ``minor role'' in the findings, Stern said.

      Almost 16 million people in the United States have diabetes, the sixth-leading cause of death in the country. The most common and serious form is type 2; type 1 diabetes is less common, but easier to diagnose and generally affects children.

      If untreated, diabetes can lead to blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and amputations.

     

Copyright 2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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