Study Shows Amputation Rates Higher in Low-Income Areas

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Diabetics from low-income neighborhoods in Orange County are up to five times more likely to have a limb amputated than those in wealthier areas, according to a new study by researchers from UCLA and USC that maps amputations throughout California according to zip code.

The average annual rate of amputation in Santa Ana, Fullerton and Orange — cities with relatively high rates of poverty — was roughly five per 1,000 diabetics. Garden Grove and Anaheim were close behind at four. The rate in Irvine, meanwhile, was less than one and in Newport Beach it was two.

The results in Orange mirrored those statewide. They were even more extreme in Los Angeles County, with rates in Compton 10 times higher than those in Malibu.

Appearing in the August edition of the journal Health Affairs, the study highlights the need for better treatment of patients to avoid amputations, which are preventable with proper care.

“We know that diabetes can be cared for in a way that does not lead to amputation,” said Dr. David Schriger, a co-author of the study.

“We’re spending far more money on health care than any system in the world. We know what to do here…You need to get people’s diabetes under control by eating properly, taking medicine, showing up at clinic visits and keeping weight under control.”

The study used data from amputations performed statewide in 2009. That year, doctors removed nearly 8,000 legs, feet and toes from 6,800 people with diabetes. Roughly 1,000 of these patients underwent two or more amputations, according to the report.

The study drew on a number of sources, including hospital discharge records and Census data, to map the rate of amputations against the percentage of people in a zip code living in poverty.

Amy DePaul is a Voice of OC contributing writer and lecturer in the University of California, Irvine Literary Journalism program. You can reach her directly at depaula@uci.edu

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