Mexican Americans (MAs) have a threefold greater prevalence of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) than non-Hispanic Whites (NHWs). Because MA diabetic subjects have greater hyperglycemia and an earlier age of onset than NHW diabetic subjects, we postulated that diabetic MAs might also have more severe diabetic retinopathy. Stereoscopic retinal photographs of the seven standard fields of each eye were taken in 257 MAs and 56 NHWs with NIDDM. The photographs were read by the University of Wisconsin Fundus Photographic Reading Center and graded with standardized criteria. The MAs had a nonsignificantly increased risk of retinopathy relative to the NHWs [odds ratio (OR) = 1.71; 95% confidence interval (CI) = (0.93, 3.17)]. The risk of severe retinopathy (proliferative or preproliferative) relative to background or no retinopathy was significantly greater in MAs than in NHWs [OR = 2.37; 95% CI = (1.04, 5.39)]. After control by logistic regression for duration of disease, severity of hyperglycemia, age, and systolic blood pressure, MAs still had an increased risk of severe retinopathy relative to NHWs [OR = 3.18; 95% CI = (1.32, 7.66)]. Severe retinopathy was related to duration of disease, hyperglycemia, and insulin therapy in both ethnic groups. Previously diagnosed MA diabetic subjects also had an increased prevalence of any retinopathy [OR = 2.39; 95% CI = (1.63, 3.50)] and severe retinopathy [OR = 3.21 ; 95% CI = (2.24, 4.59)] relative to previously diagnosed White diabetic subjects (n = 896) from Wisconsin. The combination of an increased prevalence of NIDDM in MAs plus an increased severity of retinopathy in those MAs who have diabetes suggests that a major public health effort should be made to screen this ethnic group for retinopathy.

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