Causes, consequences of Nashville’s diabetes hot zone

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism, and he has blogged for Covering Health ever since.

In The Tennessean (and USA Today), Tom Wilemon has assembled a series of reports on what he calls “the diabetes hot zone,” “a cluster of predominantly African-American, inner-city neighborhoods where diabetes rates soar to more than double the Davidson County average.”

After establishing the outlines and perils of the hot zone in his first piece, Wilemon follows up by looking into the scarcity of transplants and pervasiveness of dialysis in the area.

Although organ transplants can occur between races, matches are more difficult to achieve for blacks. Transplant recipients must have similar genes in their immune systems to those of the donor. Otherwise, the body will reject the organ.

Whites account for 68 percent of all organ donors, while African-Americans account for only 14 percent, according to the U.S. Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. Although the number of blacks and whites waiting for a kidney in 2011 was about the same, whites received just over half of kidney transplants that year, while blacks received less than a third.

Finally, he examines the causes of the diabetes epidemic and, in the process, wading deep into the “soul food” versus “fast food” debate.

Wilemon is a 2012-13 AHCJ Regional Health Journalism Fellow and wrote this story with support from USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism.

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