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Diabets is on rise among Somalis

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Posted on Mon, May. 06, 2002


Diabetes is on rise among U.S. Somalis


Pioneer Press


Somali immigrants who fled their war-ravaged homeland and settled in Minnesota are quickly discovering that the land of plenty — plenty of food, plenty of leisure time — can bring on a health problem that was rare in the Somali community: diabetes.


Dr. Mehmood Khan, a consultant in the Mayo Clinic's Division of Endocrinology, says a growing number of Somali immigrants are developing diabetes, many within five years and some as quickly as six months after their arrival in this country.


"Something happens,'' Khan said. "The question is, what is it?"


No one has scientifically studied the phenomenon, but Khan is convinced he knows the answer: lack of exercise and a dramatic increase in caloric intake, especially fat.


"No mechanisms are in place to track it and monitor this,'' Khan said of the diabetes trend among Somali immigrants. "But it needs to be done.'


Type II diabetes occurs when the body loses its ability to utilize insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas and used to metabolize sugar and fats. If not treated, the disease causes a variety of serious health problems, including heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, and foot and leg ulcers that can lead to amputations.


Experts say diabetes rates in the United States are skyrocketing to alarming levels among both adults and children. They blame the increase on rising obesity rates and lack of exercise. Studies also show that losing weight and increasing exercise significantly reduces the risk of developing diabetes.


Researchers also have documented increased diabetes rates among other immigrant populations that have adopted the American lifestyle, Khan said.


"Many minorities are genetically predisposed to developing diabetes. The changing environment triggers (the onset of the disease)," he said.


In their homeland, Somalis walk and ride bicycles, have far fewer labor-saving appliances and eat food containing little fat. But once they reach America, their physical activity drops precipitously and their diets shift toward high-fat, high-calorie American diets. "It's McDonald's, KFC and pizza,'' Khan said.


Surprisingly, Somali immigrants don't have to gain a lot of weight — only 10 to 20 extra pounds — to develop diabetes, Khan said. But that may be because the definition of obesity was based on the American model. "Our definition of obesity may not apply to these people,'' he said.


Khan cautions that he and his Mayo Clinic colleagues don't have solid data on the Somali diabetes phenomenon. "It's all observational; this population is not well-studied," he said.


Consequently, he thinks a study should be conducted because it would help researchers understand why and how the dramatic increase in diabetes is happening and, more important, help them figure out how to lower the risk.


If what holds true for whites and African-Americans holds true for Somalis, they will be able to lower their diabetes risk by increasing their exercise and keeping their weight down, Khan said.


"It's been proven that when you change, the rate (for diabetes) goes down,'' Khan said.




• Excessive thirst and appetite.


• Frequent urination, sometimes as often as every hour.


• Weight loss.


• Fatigue.


• Nausea and perhaps vomiting.


• Blurred vision.


• In women, frequent vaginal infections and perhaps the cessation of menstruation.


• In men, impotence.


• In men and women, yeast infections.




• You feel nauseated, weak and excessively thirsty; are urinating very frequently; have abdominal pain; and are breathing more deeply and rapidly than normal — perhaps with sweet breath that smells like nail polish remover. You may need immediate medical attention for ketoacidosis.


• You feel weak or faint; are experiencing a rapid heartbeat, trembling, and excessive sweating; and feel irritable, hungry or suddenly drowsy. You could be developing hypoglycemia and may be at risk of more serious complications.




• Information on all forms of diabetes can be found at, the American Diabetes Association Web site.


• Information on juvenile diabetes can be found at Information on the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation's Twin Cities research fund raiser is available at (952) 851-0770.



Tom Majeski, who covers medical news, can be reached at or (651) 228-5583.

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the diabetes on the rise in the somali community has nothing to do with going to gym or not. Its all about eating healthy and Im afraid somalis don't know what the definition of healthy is. In traditional somali food there is too much sweets shuushumo,caano baraawe, that coconut thing(dont know the name),dolce (lots of that with loads of sugar) and of course the teeth rotttingly sweet xalwo. You see if somalis were to not eat all that sweet stuff and try to eat a balance of the food groups (we eat too much meat and grains..xiilib and baasto)there would be less diabetics. My mom has diabetes and she dosen't even look after her blood sugar level by reading labels and ingredients and how much sugar whatever shes eating has in it. I do all that for her I don't allow her artifical sugar (no suagr in coffee or juice, natural sugar free jam) and she gets the other precentage of sugar her body needs from fructose and glucose (fruits and bread)--natural sugars the body needs

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Asalaamu Aleikum wr wb

Subxaana laah, Allahuma najeynaa. Is really scary to learn we r such a risk. I thought we broke the world record of two mine diseases Ulcer {Gastariiko} & gold- blooded {xameyti}. To learn that diabetes is in the list as well is more frightening. Subxaana laah is amazing how u could come a cross new diseases when u change locations. May Allah protect us (Amin).


Cushtic_Cutie I agree with u, well sis what can I say we Somalis we never give up what we love the most. I have seen many ppl who have diabetes & still eat xalwo & other sweet foods. This disease is heritage like shaqsi said walaahu Aclam. But u know what no matter how much human being trys to prevent not to get this disease, they will if Allah meant for them to get it. Doctors might have an idea what causes it but Allah knows best. May Allah protects us all form all the diseases he created. (Amin).

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Diabetes, did i read you write diabetes?


Well, how do you expect Somalis to be free from diabetes and blood pressures, when you know your dad eats 6 tea-spoons of concentrated suger (Sokor-Guurta) on his cuppa tetly's, and at the same time yelling curses at his troublesome sons which may latter result in blood pressure. 'illaahey baa igu og ilmahan neerfooso ayey iga dhigeen' laments the oldman, while his wife and her daughtors munch on fatty suuga residuals. That way you have a whole family on un-stable diet and state of mind.


"Qeylo la'aan waa la naaxaa" "sokor badan wadne macaan ayey keentaa, in direct translation 'sweet heart'" ;)

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YO THAT's actually tru ...but the studies dr.khan stated are here in minnesotat i think somebody should clarify this before we all start thinkin it's worldwide..which it could be..did any of ya'll look into it?? anywayzz my point is that one my freinds mother developed diabetes and it's hard for the somalis specially when something like this is just quickly increasing and when we got the growing notion or idea "what can a doctor do for me" it's all in the hands of allah true . which i also see somalis, but allah also told us to take good care of ourselves and being in arrogant towards this is just going to make things worse..anywayzz that's why we should be able to step up and dignify ourselves by getting the right sources and putting a stop to this..i know theres many health organizations,federal funds out there that would gladly give you the grant money to spend on research and towards the goal of ultimately helping ourselves and our does no good to sit around talk about it, and lounge around that idea...we should take a step and do what is neccasary..for the love of my people...stay

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