The twin epidemics of poverty and diabetes: understanding diabetes disparities in a low-income Latino and immigrant neighborhood

J Community Health. 2011 Dec;36(6):1032-43. doi: 10.1007/s10900-011-9406-2.


In the United States, low-income immigrant groups experience greater health disparities and worse health-related outcomes than Whites, including but not limited to higher rates of type 2 diabetes (T2DM). The prevention and adequate management of T2DM are, to a great extent, contingent on access to healthy food environments. This exploratory study examines "upstream" antecedent factors contributing to "downstream" health disparities, with a focus on disparities in the structural sources of T2DM risk, especially food environments. Our target group is Latino immigrants receiving services from a non-profit organization (NGO) in Northern California. Methods are mixed and data include focus groups and surveys of our target group, interviews to NGO staff members, and estimation of the thrifty food market basket in local grocery stores. We find that while participants identify T2DM as the greatest health problem in the community, access to healthy foods is severely restricted, geographically, culturally, and economically, with 100% of participants relying on formal or informal food assistance and local food stores offering limited variety of healthy foods and at unaffordable prices. While this article is empirical, its goal is primarily conceptual--to integrate empirical findings with the growing literature underscoring the sociopolitical context of the social determinants of health in general and of T2DM disparities in particular. We propose that interventions to reduce T2DM and comparable health disparities must incorporate a social justice perspective that guarantees a right to adequate food and other health-relevant environments, and concomitantly, a right to health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • California / epidemiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / economics
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / epidemiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / ethnology*
  • Emigrants and Immigrants / statistics & numerical data*
  • Focus Groups
  • Food Supply / economics*
  • Food Supply / standards
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Hispanic or Latino / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Organizations, Nonprofit
  • Pilot Projects
  • Poverty Areas
  • Sociology, Medical
  • Time Factors