Diabetes rates are actually going down, says exciting new data. (Getty Images)
The number of new diabetes cases in the U.S. is finally decreasing, according to new data released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The decrease comes after a steady annual climb in new cases since the early 90s, which peaked in 2008. The rate of new diabetes cases has been steadily declining since then, but researchers say the 2014 data indicates that the decrease is statistically meaningful.
New cases have dropped by a fifth from 2008, when 1.7 million new people were diagnosed with the disease. In 2014, by comparison, there were 1.4 million cases of the disease.
Diabetes, a disease that causes blood glucose levels to be above normal and sugar build-up in the blood, can cause serious health problems such as blindness, heart disease, kidney disease, and amputation of lower limbs. It’s the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S., per the CDC.
David Nathan, MD, director of the Diabetes Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, tells Yahoo Health that he’s cautiously optimistic about the new data. “It’s a little early to celebrate,” he says. “There are still a staggering number of new diabetes cases.”
However, Nathan points out that there seems to be a reliable decrease in new cases over the last five to eight years, which is promising. “Somehow, the message of how to prevent diabetes seems to be getting through,” he says.
What’s behind the decline? Nathan cites increased public awareness of the disease as the main factor. That began in 2002 with the publication of the Diabetes Prevention Program Outcomes Study, research supported by the National Institutes of Health, that demonstrated that diabetes could be prevented through lifestyle intervention and, in some cases, medical assistance.
“I can only imagine that this message has permeated the national conscious of the American public,” Nathan says, adding that many more people are now aware of the risk factors of developing diabetes, as well as their own personal risk.
“It’s encouraging but we have a long way to go,” Robert Rizza, MD, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic, tells Yahoo Health. He points out that in the 80s and early 90s, the number of annual new cases was 600,000 — more than half of what it is today.
While the new data is promising, it’s is somewhat contradictory with America’s obesity epidemic, as obesity is a major cause of Type 2 diabetes (the most common form of diabetes). Research published earlier this year in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine revealed that there are now more obese than overweight adults in America — and the majority of U.S. men and women are now considered overweight or obese.
But soda consumption rates are down from the late 90s, per CDC data, and the overall calories people consume on average each day have also decreased.
Nathan admits that the increasing obesity rates are puzzling given the decline in new diabetes cases: “I would have expected that those two things would have turned down together.”
However, the latest data should bode well for America’s obesity rate in the future. “I would expect — and hope — that we’ll start seeing a leveling off of the obesity epidemic in the near future,” Nathan says.
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