New Diabetes Cases Are On The Wane, But Still A Shaky Victory Among Blacks And Hispanics

Insulin shot
The annual rate of new diabetes cases is finally dropping but it's still not a victory yet. Jill Brown, CC BY 2.0

It’s cause for a cautious celebration.

This past Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report confirming an encouraging trend: the annual number of new diabetes cases (both Type 1 and 2) across America has noticeably declined over the past five years, from a high water mark of more than 1.7 million cases in 2009 to 1.4 million in 2014. “It seems pretty clear that incidence rates have now actually started to drop,” CDC diabetes researcher Dr. Edward Gregg told The New York Times. “Initially it was a little surprising because I had become so used to seeing increases everywhere we looked.”

Despite the overall good news, however, the gains made in preventing diabetes have been less apparent among blacks, Hispanics and the less educated. “Among Hispanics, age-adjusted incidence of diagnosed diabetes increased from 1997 to 2009 and showed no consistent change after 2009,” the CDC authors wrote. “From 1997 to 2014, age-adjusted incidence did not significantly change among blacks.” A similar pattern was seen for people without some degree of higher education.

While the incident rate in these groups has declined since 2009, it will take a larger decrease over a sustained period of time before we can be sure of a true decline. What makes these shaky victories even more worrying is the fact that whites and the higher educated already have the lowest incidence rates of diabetes, meaning those most vulnerable to the chronic condition are still getting left behind.

Winning The War

“It’s not yet time to have a parade,” Dr. David M. Nathan, director of the Diabetes Center and Clinical Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, told The Times. However, Nathan went on to add: “It has finally entered into the consciousness of our population that the sedentary lifestyle is a real problem, that increased body weight is a real problem.”

As reported previously by Medical Daily, research has shown that Americans’ dieting habits have slowly and steadily improved since the turn of the millennium, and our consumption of full-calorie soft-drinks has similarly lowered. Trying to tease out a definitive list of reasons behind the overall decline in diabetes is difficult though. In fact, other risk factors like obesity haven’t appreciatively improved during the same time span as the CDC report, they’ve only gotten worse (though there is a downward trend for childhood obesity).

Perhaps coincidentally, the International Diabetes Foundation (IDF), alongside hosting the World Diabetes Congress in Vancouver this week, also released the 2015 version of its Diabetes Atlas, a biannual look at the prevalence of diabetes across the globe. According to the report, the United States still boasts the highest percentage of citizens living with diabetes among all developed nations, at nearly 11 percent (30 million).

Commenting on the CDC report to Medscape Medical News, IDF researcher Dr. Katherine Ogurtsova made an important distinction between the overall volume of diabetes cases in America (its prevalence) and the new cases diagnosed annually (its incidence). "I don't think that we will have any downward trend in future prevalence if no dramatic changes occur,” explained Ogurtsova. “If this trend with the incidence persists for the next 10 years then, probably, we will see a leveling in the prevalence."

In other words, without significant advances in diabetes prevention, the next generation of Americans will still see more diabetes in their lifetime than our current one does today.

Source: Annual Number (in Thousands) of New Cases of Diagnosed Diabetes Among Adults Aged 18-79 Years, United States, 1980-2014. CDC. 2015.

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