As diabetes epidemic takes a pause, caution is still needed on disease’s harms

In the midst of a disease epidemic, the notion of a plateau in cases can only be taken as good news — with lots of cautions. So careful health care consumers should look with both a little relief and worry still at the emerging reports that, finally,  after years of skyrocketing rates of diabetes, the numbers are slowing, at least for educated, white Americans. They seem to be following some downturn in the nation’s simultaneous obesity crisis.

Sort of.

So here’s the start of the caveats about any good news about the incidence of diabetes: The prevalence and incidence rates are still bad and not improving for Hispanics, blacks, and those with a high school education or less.

Read the research carefully, too, about the data on diabetes’ leveling off: The rate of new cases fell a fifth between 2008 and 2014, the first sustained declines in a quarter century, the New York Times says, and it cites data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that the number of reported diabetes cases in 2014 declined to 1.4 million from the 1.7 million cases in 2008.

Sounds good? As the Times treads carefully why:

“There is growing evidence that eating habits, after decades of deterioration, have finally begun to improve. The amount of soda Americans drink has declined by about a quarter since the late 1990s, and the average number of daily calories children and adults consume also has fallen. Physical activityhas started to rise, and once-surging rates of obesity, a major driver of Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the disease, have flattened. Type 1 diabetes, often diagnosed in childhood and adolescence and not usually associated with excess body weight, was also included in the data.”

But wait: even with the declining rates, diabetes still afflicts 29 million Americans, the CDC notes, and the disease remains a major health bane. Diabetes also is often an under-reported ailment, with many individuals suffering ill effects but not quite tipping into situations where they get a firm, clinical diagnosis.

The disease, the CDC says, an “cause serious health complications including heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, and lower-extremity amputations. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.”

Diet, exercise, medications and other measures can help control diabetes and those concerned with their health should be aware of their potential for the disease and how best to manage it. Clinicians seem to be getting better in dealing with diabetes-related complications, though progress on this front has been hampered by the sheer numbers of patients with the disease and needing care.

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