Will 1 in 3 Americans be Diabetic by 2050? Is the CDC overstating the diabetes epidemic?

Amylia Grace Yeaman Health Guide
  • Thanks to new CDC projections, the American media is running stories of how diabetics are going to bankrupt the American health care system. What's more, while the projection and current trends are alarming, the truth is that the projected increase is mostly due to a change in the way the CDC researches determine their projections


    According to Diabetes branch chief of the CDC, Edward W. Gregg, for the first time ever, current estimates now include people who have diabetes but are undiagnosed - a group that wasn't figured into earlier estimates as well as taking into account new population growth estimates for the elderly and minorities-both groups which have higher rates of Type II diabetes. One more factor: Diabetics are living longer, thanks to improvements in medical care, Gregg added.

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    The prime time news ran with these statistics tonight. Local news agencies took the doom and gloom angle. The report began this way:  "If American's don't change their bad habits, 1 in 3 could become diabetic by 2050!" and was riddled with catch phrases designed to sensationalize projections of CDC researchers who simply changed the protocol for statistical accuracy. Local WISN reporters spoke of such projections as fact. And while the statistical projections address the trends re: Type II diabetes, no distinction is made between Type I diabetes and Type II diabetes. 



    As I watched the news, what struck me was how the national report was not shy about their tone of disdain regarding diabetics who they claim "have the ability to bankrupt our health care system." They claim this new projection shows diabetes takes an "epidemic toll on the American economy." The report focused on how diabetics cost our American health-care system double that of a person without diabetes, and gave tips on how to "keep yourself from becoming a statistic" and avoid draining our economy and health-care system by avoiding diabetes by exercising and eating well. No genetic link was mentioned. The existence of different types of diabetes was not mentioned.


    Currently about 24 million, or 1 in 10 Americans have diabetes, with Type II diabetes accounting for 95% of all cases of diabetes in the U.S.


    While local and national media coverage chooses to scapegoat diabetics and project blame for the future bankruptcy of the health care system, the truth represented by the newly estimated projections published online Friday by the Population Health Metrics Journal is somewhere in between. American Diabetes Association's VP of Medical Affairs and Community Information, Dr. Sue Kirkman says "not all of the increase in prevalence is a bad thing." In fact, recent CDC data suggests obesity rates seem to have leveled off.  


    I'm not saying this is a good thing, but such points are never brought up in the news. We need someone to blame and diabetics are easy targets. Even if CDC officials are correct in their belief that the new and more accurate estimates should hold up even if obesity rates remain static, Type II diabetes has a strong genetic component (stronger than what is found in cases of Type I diabetes), and this should be mentioned. Of course, it'd contradict their stories so it is left out.


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    I'm not saying diabetes isn't serious. It is. Very much so. It is costly in myriad ways. It was the seventh leading cause of death in 2007 and accounts for the majority of cases of blindness, amputation and kidney failure in American adults. This isn't a small deal.  I struggle every day with this disease (Type I), and have for over twenty years. But I am not to blame for the health-care system's failure and I am not to blame for having diabetes. Not at all. Diabetics face enough guilt and shame without the media perpetuating myths and half-truths.


    I'm not going to pretend that the number of diabetics in the world is not disturbing. But the media does a disservice when shoddily reporting "the facts" and misleading the American public. Does it help ratings? Sure! But why no responsibility to the American people to report the news as factually as possible?Why no mention of the actual reasons for the shifting numbers? Why no inclusion of the different types of diabetes? A lie by omission is still a lie. Do news stories have to increase ratings at the expense of the truth?


    To learn more about the report, please visit CDC.gov/diabetes.

Published On: October 24, 2010