Maywood Has Higher Rates Of Obesity, Hypertension Than Ghana, Research Shows

Sunday, September 15, 2019 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

Featured image: Dr. Lara Dugas presents her findings to members of the Maywood-Proviso Rotary Club during a meeting on Sept. 5. | Michael Romain

Black residents living in Maywood are more likely to be obese, and to have high blood pressure and diabetes than those Blacks living in some of the poorest countries in the world, according to alarming findings recently released by Loyola public health researchers. 

Dr. Lara Dugas and Dr. Amy Luke, both researchers at Loyola University Chicago’s Parkinson School of Health Sciences and Public Health in Maywood, presented the findings, which come from three decades of global health research, at a meeting of the Maywood-Proviso Rotary Club held Sept. 5 at the Meal of the Day Cafe, 1701 S. 1st Ave. in Maywood.

Dugas said that Loyola researchers have been studying rates of hypertension, obesity and diabetes among Blacks in Maywood, and comparing those rates with Blacks in other countries, since 1992, when Dr. Richard Cooper, the chairman of the Department of Public Health Sciences at Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine, developed the International Collaborative Study of Hypertension in Blacks. 

From 1992 to 1995, Cooper and some other researchers studied 12,000 Blacks in seven countries in Africa, the Caribbean, the United Kingdom and the United States. Maywood was Cooper’s US research site. 

Luke, a longtime Maywood resident, said that Cooper’s work helped debunk the notion that Black people are genetically predisposed to hypertension. 

“Dr. Cooper’s initial study on hypertension in the African diaspora really has changed the paradigm and has gotten people to think beyond the standard, ‘Oh, it must be genetics,’” Luke said. “We know now that it’s not just genetics. His work is really groundbreaking.” 

Other critical factors, such as diet and a country’s distance from the sun, are much more important risk factors than genes, Cooper’s work showed. 

For instance, the rate of hypertension among Blacks in Nigeria was only 15 percent (the lowest among the seven research sites) while the rate of hypertension among Blacks in Maywood was nearly 35 percent (the highest prevalence among the research sites). 

In 2009, Luke developed the Modeling the Epidemiological Transition Study, or METS, which basically picked up where Cooper left off. Luke’s study examined roughly 1,500 Blacks living in Ghana, South Africa, Jamaica, the Seychelles islands and the United States. Luke selected 500 individuals living in research sites in each of those countries. Maywood was Luke’s US research site. 

The METS data shows that, in 2010, rates of obesity, diabetes and hypertension among Blacks in Maywood were higher than any of the other places studied — even so-called Third World countries like Ghana and Jamaica. 

Among Blacks living in Maywood, for instance, the rates of obesity, diabetes and hypertension was 52 percent, 10 percent and 27 percent, respectively. In Ghana, the rates were 10 percent, 1 percent and 5 percent, respectively. 

A chart of data pulled from the METS study and included in a PowerPoint during Lara Dugas’ presentation showing comparative rates of overweight, obesity, diabetes and hypertension among Blacks in five countries. The 502 US participants were Maywood residents. | METS

“It was really heartbreaking working in the clinic, because we would obtain blood pressure levels and confirm that these people had blood pressure that would put them into the hypertensive category and we’d say, ‘Are you aware?’ and ‘Why are you not taking your pills?’” Dugas recalled. 

“Without a doubt, the single biggest reason was because they couldn’t afford them,” she said. “I heard people say, ‘Well, I take them every two days.’ Even if they were taking the pills, they were spreading them out to make the pills go further.” 

Dugas said that those patients who had to face the prospect of medical treatment before former president Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act was implemented were often referred to Loyola’s Access to Care clinic at 1211 W. Roosevelt Rd. in Maywood. 

“For a very small fee, we sent them to get treated,” Dugas said, adding that while the data on METS participants after Obamacare went into effect is available, she didn’t have it on hand at the time. 

Dugas said that she’s currently looking for more people to participate in her METS-Microbiome study, which examines examines the impact of gut health on obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease in Blacks. 

So far, the results have been alarming. According to her findings, the prevalence of high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes in Black men, ages 35 to 55, who are living in Maywood is 66 percent, 60 percent and 54 percent, respectively. Among Black women, ages 35 to 55, who are living in the village, the rates are 68 percent, 84 percent and 59 percent, respectively. 

“Among people 45-64 years old in the whole of the US, the current prevalence of hypertension is 35 percent,” Dugas said. “So what we’re seeing in Maywood is that the people in this community have blood pressure prevalences that are twice that of the national average.” 

In Illinois, she added, the rate of obesity is 40 percent—meaning that middle-aged Blacks in Maywood are more than twice as likely to be obese than middle-age adults across the state.

Dugas said that important factors leading to high rates of obesity, hypertension and diabetes among Blacks in Maywood are relatively low vitamin D levels, a lack of dietary fiber and a lack of sleep. The stress associated with racial discrimination is also a risk factor, said Dugas, who explained that similar correlations between racism and high blood pressure can be found in her native South Africa, where racial Apartheid was once dominant. 

Despite the alarming results of their research, Luke and Dugas remained optimistic — both about what they’ve been able to accomplish through their work and about the possibility that solutions to the problems of chronic diseases in Maywood are on the horizon. 

“Poverty is associated with all of these negative health outcomes, too, so I think we need to raise our communities up,” said Luke. 

“Although its considered research, this is an important relationship for us,” Dugas said. “These are 400 people that are being treated that weren’t being treated before and who are now aware that they have diabetes. Everyone who comes into our clinic and is diagnosed, we make a referral to them to get treatment.” 

Dugas said that she’s looking for more Maywood residents to participate in her research. More information is in the flyer below. VFP

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