Addressing Health Inequities in Communities of Color

Diabetes affects hundreds of thousands of people in South Carolina. But it does not affect them at the same rate. The rate of the disease is higher among Black residents than white. It affects more than 16 percent of Black people in the state. It affects 11 percent of white residents.

Diabetes is also more deadly for Black residents. The death rate among Black people in the state is twice as high, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC)*.

Systemic Racism and Diabetes

“Diabetes has become more common in all communities in the past three decades. Type 2 diabetes was a rarer disease 100 years ago,” says Timothy Lyons, medical director at Diabetes Free SC (DFSC).

There are known genetic risk factors for Type 2 diabetes. But genetics are not the cause of the glaring racial gap, says Lyons.

“It’s complicated and not totally understood. Evidence shows the burden of diabetes would not differ much if communities had similar social, educational and economic conditions,” he says.

Racial inequities limit access to:

•             Affordable health care.

•             Healthy foods.

•             Stable housing.

•             Jobs that pay a livable wage.

•             Safe places for physical activity.

Minority groups in the state are more likely to face gaps in all these areas. The reason is rooted in systemic racism, says Noreen O’Donnell, DFSC program director.

“The inequities we’re facing in our state don’t just affect diabetes and related health outcomes,” says O’Donnell. “That’s why it’s vital to approach our work in an equity-centered way.”

The Path to Health Equity

DFSC recently looked at ways to focus on equity, diversity and inclusion. The program aims to strengthen its approaches by:

•             Creating a guide for communications that is centered on equity.

•             Adding equity impact reviews to project planning.

•             Breaking down project data through an equity lens.

•             Focusing on relationship building during project planning and execution.

The goal is to find ways to better understand the root causes of inequities related to diabetes. This is especially true for:

•             Indigenous, Black, Latino and immigrant communities.

•             Rural areas.

•             People with disabilities.

“DFSC and our partners will listen, learn and commit ourselves to think, plan and act to fight racial inequities in all of our work,” says O’Donnell. “We are committed to addressing the barriers that affect marginalized communities across South Carolina. This serves to further our mission to reduce the widespread impact of diabetes in our state.”


*The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is an independent organization that provides health information you may find helpful.