Wake Forest Researcher Finds High Diabetes Rate Among Lumbee Indians

December 14, 1999

About nine percent of Lumbee Indians over 18 years of age in Robeson County have been diagnosed with diabetes, compared to a statewide diabetes rate of about five percent, according to Ronny Bell, Ph.D., M.S., of Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

"This higher rate of diabetes among the Lumbee validates what many people in this area believe - that diabetes is a major concern for Lumbees," Bell said. "We also know that in the general population, about one-third of people who actually have diabetes have not been diagnosed, so this rate actually misses quite a few people."

Bell, assistant professor of public health sciences (epidemiology), presented findings from the Lumbee Health Survey today at the Diabetes in American Indian Communities Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The conference is co-sponsored by the University of Arizona, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Indian Physicians.

Bell''s poster presentation focused on diabetes rates in the Lumbee tribe. "To my knowledge, no one has ever scientifically documented how common diabetes is among the Lumbee. There is quite a bit of information about the epidemic of diabetes among Native Americans, but most of that work has been in the southwestern United States," Bell said.

Bell conducted a telephone survey of approximately 1,200 Lumbee Indians in Robeson County to determine the level of health conditions and health behaviors in this area. The study was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health and Wake Forest University School of Medicine Venture Funds. The surveys were done by local residents trained to collect the information by Bell.

Diabetes is a condition in which the body cannot effectively use blood sugar. About 10 percent of all people with diabetes have "Type 1" diabetes, in which the body no longer produces the insulin it needs to use blood sugar. The other 90 percent have "Type 2" diabetes, where the body has either stopped producing insulin, doesn''t produce enough, or no longer properly uses the insulin it produces.

Diabetes is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, kidney failure, and adult blindness. According to data from the State Center for Health Statistics, Robeson County ranks second among North Carolina''s 100 counties in diabetes death rates at 57.3/100,000 population, and third in the state in the amount of money spent on diabetes-related hospitalizations per county resident.

Bell is Lumbee and a native of Robeson County. Bell has been on the faculty at Wake Forest University since 1996. Bell also serves as the epidemiologist for the North Carolina Diabetes Prevention and Control Unit.


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