Diabetes a Concern for Half of Americans

Diabetes a Concern for Half of Americans

Sept. 8, 2015 — Half of Americans have diabetes or are well on their way to getting it, a new study estimates.

As the U.S. population has grown older and heavier, the number of people who are having trouble controlling their blood sugar has climbed.

Two decades ago, about 1 in 10 adults had diabetes. Now, the number if closer to 1 in 7 or 8, or 12% to 14%.

Another 38% of people have blood sugar high enough to put them on the cusp of that diagnosis,a risk category doctors call prediabetes.

“Seeing these high rates of diabetes is quite concerning. I do really think we need a call to action, and we need to do a better job of preventing diabetes in the first place and preventing its complications,” says Elizabeth Selvin, PhD, professor of epidemiology and medicine at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In a study published last year, Selvin estimated similarly high rates of diabetes. She was not involved in the current study.

The new research also underscored the heavy toll the disease is taking on certain ethnic groups. African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asian-Americans were about twice as likely to have diabetes as whites. They were also more likely to go undiagnosed.

“Ethnic minority groups are at high risk for complications of diabetes, so the racial disparities and burden of diabetes and prediabetes are particularly concerning,” Selvin says.

Researchers say while the numbers are high, there are some encouraging signs. Doctors are catching the disease more often. The proportion of people with undiagnosed diabetes appears to be dropping. And the overall prevalence of the disease seems to have been holding steady since about 2008.

An editorial running alongside the study cheered the findings, saying that they offer a glimmer of hope that public health efforts are turning the tide.

The study authors, though, think it’s too early to celebrate.

“I’m not convinced that [the prevalence of diabetes] has plateaued. It’s plateaued before,” says Catherine C. Cowie, PhD, an epidemiologist and senior advisor at the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive, and Kidney Diseases.

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