A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report predicts that nearly 40 percent of Americans — particularly people of color and women — will develop type 2 diabetes at some point in their lives. Researchers estimated the trends using medical information and death certificates of 600,000 U.S. adults between 1985 and 2011.
The findings, published in the Aug. 13 issue of The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, come on the heels of another report that designated diabetes and obesity as two of the greatest public health challenges of the 21st century.
“We weren’t necessarily surprised that it increased, but we didn’t expect it to increase this much,” lead author of the study Edward Gregg told MedicineNet.com. “Forty percent is a humbling number.”
Type 2 diabetes — the most common form of the chronic illness — remains the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. People with type 2 diabetes often experience high blood sugar levels, skin infections, fatigue, and increased urination. Treatment costs have exploded by more than 40 percent between 2007 and 2012 and now stand at more than $245 billion, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Experts have long tied diabetes to obesity, lack of physical activity, and the consumption of high-fat, processed foods. People of color — particularly those with a family history of diabetes — have the greatest risk of developing the disease, especially if they live in suburbs, areas where amenities aren’t in close proximity and people walk less.
A shortage of endocrinologists — medical professionals who treat hormone-related conditions including diabetes, obesity, and thyroid disorders — has also played a part in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes in recent years. A June study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism highlighted an endocrinologist shortage of 1,500 for adults and 100 for children. Wait times for non-emergency visits also average 37 days, according to a 2012 survey conducted by the Endocrine Society. Although researchers predicted that the treatment gap would close by 2016 for children, they said that treatment of adults would most likely remain an issue.
“It’s rending people incapable of enjoying a good quality of life. It’s raising health care costs at an alarming rate,” Dr. Minisha Sood, an endocrinologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told MedicineNet.com. “And frankly, there aren’t enough health care professionals to deal with what’s coming down the pike. We’re looking at clogging up a health care system that’s already stretched to its limits.”
Under the Affordable Care Act, adults with high blood pressure and pregnant women receive free diabetes screenings. Diabetic people can also develop behavioral and lifestyle changes with a counselor free of charge. Additionally, no lifetime dollar limit on coverage exists for treatment of diabetes. While that’s good news, nearly five million Americans would not be able to use these services because more than 20 governors have not approved Medicaid expansion in their states. As a result, several hospitals and clinics stand to lose more than $423 billion in federal funding over the next decade, dimming the prospects of adequate care for people with type 2 diabetes and other chronic illnesses.