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Is the Rate of Diabetes Growth Slowing Down in the US? CDC Says Yes, But We Aren't So Sure

Published: 12/21/15
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Twitter Summary: 1.4 million new US cases of diabetes in 2014, a significant 18% decrease from 2009. Is it a real finding?

Are fewer people getting diabetes every year in the US? The CDC believes so, according to new data published earlier this month.

The government organization recently posted 2014 data on annual new diabetes diagnoses in the US. Last year, there were 1.4 million new cases of diagnosed diabetes in adults (18-79 years), marking the fifth straight year of decline from a peak in 2009 at 1.7 million. While this decline has been happening over five years, 2014 is the first time that the trend can be considered “statistically significant” – in other words, it’s unlikely to be due to chance.

Unfortunately, the data does not differentiate between type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and many believe diagnoses of type 1 are actually increasing. We hope future data releases break out the two types of diabetes.

Why might a decline be happening in type 2 diabetes diagnoses? The hopeful scenario is that fewer people are getting type 2 diabetes as a result of initiatives like diabetes prevention programs, greater awareness for the risk factors of diabetes and obesity, and a broader cultural awareness surrounding food choices and physical activity. That said, it’s also quite possible the data reflects a decline in screening for type 2 diabetes in recent years, a decline in general healthcare access, or even issues with the survey methods themselves.  

What groups have seen the largest reduction in diabetes rates? According to the CDC data, those with less than a high school education, those between the ages of 45-64, and those in black and Hispanic populations saw the most significant drops in diagnoses since 2009. While it’s unclear as to why these groups in particular saw the biggest reductions (Greater prevention efforts in these groups? Less screening in these groups? etc.), it should not be forgotten that overall, these populations are still the most impacted by diabetes. Those with less than a high school degree get diabetes around twice as often than those with a college degree on average, and the incidence of diabetes in black and Hispanic populations remains significantly higher than in white populations.

How should we feel about these new numbers? We have to be cautious about the analysis, since the number of diagnoses is not necessarily the same thing as how many people are actually getting diabetes (since many people remain undiagnosed). We think this New York Times article hit the take spot-on: the piece highlights some amazing successes on an individual level, including someone in Alabama who went from drinking 50 cans of soda a week to only seven cans a week. But on a population level, the urgency to combat type 2 diabetes needs to remain sky-high – 1.4 million new cases per year is still double the number in the early 90s, and could imply another 10+ million people with diabetes in the US population over the next decade (on top of the 29+ million with diabetes today). -AB/AJW

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