And the diabetes epidemic is growing by almost 5% a year, according to a study
led by Linda S. Geiss, MA, the CDC's chief of diabetes surveillance.
Geiss presented the study findings at the American Diabetes Association's
67th Annual Scientific Sessions, held June 22-26 in Chicago.
"We found that diabetes and obesity are growing together," Geiss
says. "It has grown for the last 15 years and there is no hint of it
Can we stop the epidemic? No, Geiss says -- not until we find the
"The strength and magnitude of the change is so great, this is not
something we can stop overnight," she says. "Like a runaway train, we
must slow it down before we can stop it."
Geiss's team looked at data from U.S. health surveys covering the years 1963
to 2005. They found three distinct stages in the diabetes epidemic:
- 1963 to 1975 was a period of a sharp increase in diabetes. Prevalence
increased from 13.6 to 25.8 per 1,000 Americans.
- Diabetes leveled off in 1975, and did not increase until 1990. It's not
clear exactly why this happened. It could simply be a result of the
standardization of diabetes diagnosis in 1975.
- "Then, in 1990, diabetes really took off," Geiss says. Prevalence
shot up from 26.4 to 54.5 per 1,000 people.
Ann Albright, PhD, RD, director of the CDC's division of diabetes
translation, says this diabetes surge could undo the progress that's been
achieved in fighting heart disease.
"With diabetes beginning to strike at younger ages, we may reverse the
trends we have seen in reducing heart disease," Albright said at an ADA
news conference. "Obesity and diabetes are important public health
Heart disease isn't the only issue; diabetes also affects small blood
vessels and the nerve cells. One of these complications is a sight-threatening
eye condition called diabetic retinopathy.
Another study with CDC researcher James Boyle, PhD, shows that by 2050,
diabetes will affect the eyes of nearly 18 million Americans.
"We project the number of people with diabetic retinopathy and
vision-threatening diabetic retinopathy to triple," Boyle and colleagues
reported at the ADA. "The number of whites and blacks 50 years of age and
older with diabetes who have cataracts will probably increase 238% from 2005 to
2050. Additionally, between 2005 and 2050, our projections suggest a 12-fold
increase in the number of Hispanics with diabetes 65 years and older who have
Hearing may also be an issue for people with diabetes. A study with
researcher Catherine C. Cowie, PhD, of the National Institute of Diabetes and
Digestive and Kidney Diseases, shows that diabetes doubles a person's risk of
The study suggests that 40% of people with diabetes may suffer some degree
of hearing impairment.
Can the U.S. really afford to do what's needed to derail the diabetes
epidemic? It may be that we can't afford not to.
"The estimated annual cost of diabetes in the U.S. is $132 billion --
and that is probably an underestimate," Albright said. "It will
absolutely require a coordinated effort to turn things around."
By Daniel DeNoon
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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