Studying people in their homes and neighborhoods, investigators have found that poor housing conditions contribute to the risk for diabetes in urban, middle-aged African-Americans.
A team of investigators from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Indiana University School of Medicine and other institutions conducted the study. They published their findings in the Aug. 15 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.
"We looked at several risk factors to see if they could explain why some African-Americans were more likely to develop diabetes," explains Mario Schootman, Ph.D., assistant professor of epidemiology and medicine and chief of the Division of Health Behavior Research at Washington University. "And we found that housing conditions somehow contribute to the development of diabetes."
The study looked at many risk factors for diabetes including weight, smoking, exercise, alcohol use, marital status and education. But when the researchers adjusted for all of those factors, housing conditions still influenced diabetes risk.
"So far we can't explain why that is," Schootman says. "It could potentially be related to lead. Lead is associated with the development of diabetes, and we know that in some poorer housing conditions, there's likely to be lead exposure. But it also could be related to other, unknown environmental contaminants."
Schootman also says stress might be involved. Individuals who live in poor housing conditions may be more likely to be under stress as a function of where they live. There are known links between stress and diabetes that could help explain the increased incidence of diabetes in this population.
"But a counter-argument against that would be that diabetes risk was associated with housing but not neighborhoods," he says. "We would have expected that if stress was playing a role, the neighborhood conditions also would be involved."