People who live along the U.S.-Mexico border suffer from diabetes at a rate slightly higher than the national averages in either country, according to a study.
The study released Wednesday showed 15.7 percent of border residents suffer from Type 2 diabetes compared to a national average of 13.9 percent in the United States and 14.9 percent in Mexico, said Dr. Joxel Garcia, deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization, which coordinated the bi-national study.
"We were underestimating the amount of diabetes we have here and the amount of obesity and overweight (people) that we have here. It gives us a reality check," Garcia said.
More than 1.2 million border residents — 700,000 in the United States and 500,000 in Mexico — suffer from diabetes, according to the study. Most of the problem is attributed to poor diet and lack of exercise.
The study included interviews of about 4,000 randomly selected people, more than 88 percent of whom were Hispanic.
Some experts have said that a diet consisting of too much meat and fat, and a tendency for adults to become sedentary as they age, is part of a border culture that contributes to the problem.
Garcia said the study showed more than 75 percent of border residents are overweight or obese, conditions that put people at increased risk of diabetes.
Participants in the study included the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Mexico Secretariat de Salud and many state, county and local health departments. The surveys of households in every state along both sides of the border included interviews, body size and blood pressure measurements and blood tests.
The study also showed that 4.3 percent of border residents had diabetes but weren't aware of it until they received their test results. Another 13.9 percent of the population suffered from pre-diabetes, a condition characterized by elevated blood sugar levels that puts a person at greater risk of developing the disease.
Diabetes is the single largest cause of blindness, kidney failure and lower-limb amputations, said Dr. Laurance Nickey, former head of the El Paso City-County Health and Environmental District and a diabetic himself.
The study results are part of the first phase of the project, which also will include prevention and education recommendations.