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Black women are at more than double the risk of developing adult-onset diabetes than white women, a risk that could be cut sharply by improving diet and exercise, researchers said yesterday.

"We've known for a long time that compared to their white counterparts, middle-aged African Americans have both higher blood pressure and a higher prevalence of Type 2 [adult-onset]non-insulin-dependent diabetes and its complications," study author Frederick Brancati said in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"But this study suggests that poor diet, high blood pressure, body fat and lack of exercise are accountable for nearly half the risk in women," the Johns Hopkins University researcher said.

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Roughly 90 per cent of diabetes cases are the Type 2 variety. The disease leads to more than 300,000 deaths annually in the United States, and accounts for $100-billion (U.S.) in medical costs.

The findings of the nine-year study, which began in 1986 with 12,107 healthy subjects aged 45 to 64, showed that one in four black women developed the disease, compared with one in 10 white women. Black women were 2.4 times more likely to develop diabetes than white women were.

Among black men, 23 per cent developed diabetes, compared with 16 per cent of white men, giving black men 1.5 times the risk.

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