New diabetes cases drop for first time in 25 years, but still ‘not time for a parade’

© Sam Hodgson
Newly reported cases of diabetes in Americans fell to 1.4 million in 2014, down notably from 1.7 million in 2008. Though the drop is significant, not all demographics are seeing the same results. “It’s not yet time to have a parade,” one expert said.

New statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) either confirmed recent optimism or invalidated jaded pessimism in the medical community with regard to diabetes.

“It seems pretty clear that incidence rates have now actually started to drop,” Edward Gregg, CDC epidemiologist, told The New York Times. “Initially it was a little surprising, because I had become so used to seeing increases everywhere we looked.”

“Whereas a couple of year[s] ago when there was clearly no increase, we called it a plateau and were perhaps nervous that things had not turned the corner,” Gregg also told the Washington Post.

Though the findings show the first decline in new diabetes cases in a quarter century, it was a long climb upwards, so the good news is far from a happy ending to the epidemic.

“It’s not yet time to have a parade,” Dr. David M. Nathan, director of the Diabetes Center and Clinical Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, told the Times.

What the good news may provide is a glimpse into what works in preventing the incurable disease. While the CDC research cannot explain why the number of new cases has dropped, some believe education and awareness is key.

“It has finally entered into the consciousness of our population that the sedentary lifestyle is a real problem, that increased body weight is a real problem,” Dr. Nathan said.

The CDC data showed that rates for high school-educated Americans improved more than for the undereducated, but even the latter saw a slight decrease in newly reported diabetes cases. A similar dynamic divided men from women, and whites from blacks and Hispanics.

Compared to the late 90s, Americans are drinking 25 percent less soda, taking in fewer daily calories, and fitting more physical activity into their routines. Obesity rates aren’t dropping, but they’re not rising, either. Still, there are twice as many diabetics in the US today as there were in the early 90s, according to the CDC.

Twenty-nine million Americans struggle with diabetes, the nation’s most likely disease to cause blindness, kidney failure, or health complications leading to amputation.

“It is still a huge problem — we shouldn’t take this data as excuse to become complacent and not continue to try to change risk. This is still one of the largest public health problems we are facing,” Gregg, the CDC epidemiologist, told the Post. “Our greatest concern is in communities with high poverty and low education, and we don’t have all the data to know whether some of the highest-risk parts of America are seeing this improvement as well.”

CDC estimates from 2012 show total medical costs stemming from diabetes amount to about $176 billion a year, while indirect costs resulting from loss of work or premature death add up to about $69 billion a year, for a total annual bill of $245 billion.