Study: Poor diabetics up to 10 times more likely to suffer amputations

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Diabetics living in low-income areas are up to ten times more likely to have a toe, foot or leg amputated than those in wealthy neighborhoods, according to  a new UCLA study.

Diabetes-related amputations have declined overall in recent years, but the study found that diabetics -- particularly black and non-English speaking men older than 65 -- face a much higher risk of amputation if they live in a poor area such as Compton or East Los Angeles, compared with those living in places like Beverly Hills or Malibu.

A host of factors contribute to the disparity, said Dr. Carl Stevens, the study’s lead author. A key factor is the lack of early and effective diabetes treatment, he said, adding that there are fewer primary care doctors in poor neighborhoods compared with wealthier ones.

The result is that in California, an average of 20 diabetics undergo an amputation each day, the rough equivalent of the number of amputations suffered by victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, said Stevens.

"But that doesn’t make it onto the evening news," he said. "There aren’t any parades, any flowers. But the people who lose a limb to diabetes are no less disabled, no less maimed than people who lose a limb to a more dramatic terrorist event like the Boston bombing."

Stevens said he hopes his study will encourage policymakers to do more to ensure residents of poor neighborhoods can get early access to treatment to control their diabetes.

The full study, including maps showing amputation rates by Los Angeles neighborhood, is here.


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