May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, a great time to reflect on AAPI cultures and history. Most importantly, this month gives us an opportunity to examine the current health conditions and concerns in the AAPI community and ways to improve the well-being of future generations.
We know that the AAPI community is at higher risk of diabetes—about 30 percent more likely than their non-Hispanic white counterparts. This community faces additional challenges to prevention and care, including cultural competency of providers, language access and affordability of coverage and care. The American Diabetes Association works to support AAPIs with diabetes through our Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Initiative and our Asian Pacific American Diabetes Action Council. We also work to advocate for prevention, research, and access to care, and to end discrimination for all people living with diabetes.
This month, I’d like to highlight a growing health condition in this community: gestational diabetes. This disease occurs when the body is not able to make and use all the insulin it needs during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes poses serious health risks to both mother and child and puts both at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Asian American women are at highest risk to develop gestational diabetes—about 177 percent more likely than non-Hispanic whites.
The Association recommends that all pregnant women are screened for the disease during weeks 24-28 of pregnancy. Despite this recommendation, one out of three pregnant women never gets tested and, of the women diagnosed with gestational diabetes, only one in five receive the appropriate follow-up test postpartum.
As a doctor, I am very familiar with the risks women face when they develop gestational diabetes during their pregnancy. However, those risks took on new meaning for me when I developed gestational diabetes during my own pregnancy. Knowing the possibilities of future risk to me and my children, I am motivated to find a way to address this vital health issue. Yet while the need to find a focused way of addressing gestational diabetes has become clear to me, minimal effort is being put into public health research around it, and into tracking women with it or those at risk of developing it.
The risks of gestational diabetes are not limited to the Asian American population. About 18 percent of all pregnancies are burdened by this disease, and a heavy impact is also felt in the Latino community. We need to find a way to educate women in these vulnerable communities about this disease and its potential long-term impact for both mother and child.
In an effort to continue to raise awareness and resources for this disease, I would like to highlight and urge everyone to support the Gestational Diabetes (GEDI) Act of 2013 (HR 1915/S. 907). This act seeks to lower the incidence of gestational diabetes and prevent women afflicted with this condition, and their children, from developing type 2 diabetes later in life. The bill would provide important resources to support better health for moms and their babies by establishing a tracking and surveillance system for gestational diabetes and providing research funding to help understand which women are at greatest risk and how to prevent the disease and its reoccurrence. Please urge your Members of Congress to support more research on gestational diabetes by cosponsoring this legislation. Click here to voice your support for America’s moms and babies.
This Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, let’s all support efforts to improve the health of this and other at-risk communities! To take action on this issue, send an email to your congressional representative, or call 1-888-661-3208 to speak to your Senator or 1-877-803-2936 to speak to your Representative. With your help, we can move forward with increasing research for gestational diabetes!
Ho Luong Tran, MD, MPH, is the Vice Chair, Asian Pacific Islander Action Council, American Diabetes Association, and serves as the President/CEO of the National Council of Asian Pacific Islander Physicians. Dr. Tran has been recognized as a visionary administrator with more than 20 years of experience leading innovative legislative, policy and community initiatives. She served as a member of the Advisory Committee on Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is a pediatrician.