Diabetes isn’t an equal-opportunity disease. Study after study has shown that it hits some groups harder than others. For decades, researchers assumed the differences in type 2 diabetes rates were due to genetic differences between racial and ethnic groups.
But (HF/MVS assistant professor Rebecca) Hasson and many others argue that, with some exceptions, genetics linked to race play a much smaller role for most people than we once thought. Race isn’t diabetes destiny, in other words: A family history of type 2 is a much more powerful predictor of whether or not you’ll develop the disease than the color of your skin—just one reason why encouraging family members to get screened is important.
Advances in our understanding of human genetics have also shown that skin color and other outwardly visible differences between people—the historical basis for racial categories like “white” and “black”—represent a tiny fraction of our total genetic makeup. What makes us look different is 0.2 percent of our genome (genetic material), Hasson says in a Diabetes Forecast article by Andrew Curry .
Indeed, ethnic and racial categories often have little to do with biology. When talking about health, it’s important to remember that racial categories confuse and conceal as much as they reveal. “There is a genetic component,” Hasson says, “but when you’re talking about differences in racial groups, it’s more of a social construct than a biological one.”