Diabetes is an epidemic. The number of people with the disease is skyrocketing, and we’re helpless to change the trend.
That’s what we’ve all heard, at least.
However, recent data suggests that new cases of diabetes have slowed. The proof is in new numbers published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Back in 1990, 3.5 of every 100 people had type 2 or type 1 (the far rarer form) diabetes. In 2008, 7.9 for each 100 people had diabetes. That big jump, over just 18 years, concerned health officials mightily.
The four years after that, though, saw things slow down. In 2012, 8.3 people per 100 had diabetes — a minimal increase. And this was borne out in figures outlining the number of new cases each year. There were 3.2 diagnosed per 1,000 back in 1990, 8.8 per 1,000 in 2008 and only 7.1 per 1,000 in 2012.
“We are now for the first time showing that (the numbers are) slowing down,” said Ann Albright, director of the Division of Diabetes Translation at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and co-author of the report.
“We’re encouraged by that but it also means that we need to continue to watch this and make sure it’s not just a blip, to make sure we can sustain this and ultimately reverse this trend,” she said in an interview with Reuters.
Unfortunately, scientists don’t have an answer for the most obvious question that follows the release of a report like this.
The research doesn’t say what is making diabetes cases level off. It doesn’t even say how many type 1s or type 2s are involved. There is a prime theory, though, and it has to do with this country’s obesity rate.
Believe it or not, the number of cases of obesity in the United States seems to have remained the same for the last decade or so. That’s according to CDC data released in February. Admittedly, that’s one-third of all people in the country, but there was also a drop in the number of preschoolers with obesity, so the future looks hopeful.
“The improvement that we make in obesity and the diabetes prevention work that we do, these are all going to be contributing to slowing the rate,” Albright told Reuters. “Ultimately we want to reverse these” obesity rates.
The job remains daunting. There are 29 million folks in the country with diabetes, and some 30 percent of them haven’t even been diagnosed. And its toll falls disproportionately on minority populations — Hispanic and black people still see increases in the number of new cases of diabetes. Those without a high school education are also behind the country as a whole.
As always when talking about diabetes, the struggles and challenges are real. However, so are the opportunities and reasons for hope.