Racial/ethnic disparities in association between dietary quality and incident diabetes in postmenopausal women in the United States: the Women's Health Initiative 1993-2005

Ethn Health. 2014 Jun;19(3):328-47. doi: 10.1080/13557858.2013.797322. Epub 2013 May 22.


Objective: To examine the association of dietary quality and risk of incident diabetes overall and by race/ethnicity among postmenopausal women enrolled in the Women's Health Initiative (WHI).

Research methods and procedures: The WHI recruited 161,808 postmenopausal women between 1993 and 1998, and followed them until 2005. Incident diabetes was determined annually over an average of 7.6 years from enrollment. At baseline, all participants completed a Food Frequency Questionnaire (FFQ). Dietary quality was assessed by the Alternate Healthy Eating Index (AHEI), calculated from the baseline FFQ responses.

Results: There were 10,307 incident cases of self-reported treated diabetes over 1,172,761 person-years of follow-up. Most participants did not meet the AHEI dietary goals; that is, only 0.1% of women met or exceeded the recommended consumption of vegetables, and few (17.3%) met or exceeded the recommended level for total fiber. After adjusting for potential confounders, women in the highest quintile of the AHEI score were 24% less likely to develop diabetes relative to women in the lowest quintile of AHEI [hazard ratio (HR)=0.76 (95% CI: 0.70-0.82)]. This association was observed in Whites [HR=0.74 (95% CI: 0.68-0.82)] and Hispanics [HR=0.68 (95% CI: 0.46-0.99)], but not in Blacks [HR=0.85 (95% CI: 0.69-1.05)] or Asians [HR=0.88 (95% CI: 0.57-1.38)].

Conclusion: These findings support a protective role of healthful eating choices in reducing the risk of developing diabetes, after adjusting for other lifestyle factors, in White and Hispanic postmenopausal women. Future studies are needed to investigate the relationship between dietary quality and risk of diabetes among Blacks and Asians in relationship to other lifestyle factors.

Keywords: diabetes; dietary quality; epidemiology; postmenopausal women; women's health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / epidemiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / ethnology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / etiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / prevention & control
  • Diet / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Health Behavior / ethnology*
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Middle Aged
  • Postmenopause / ethnology*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Risk Factors
  • Self Report
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Women's Health / ethnology*