All we hear about is the increased number of people with diabetes, but could diabetes be on the decrease? A new study regarding the incidence and prevalence of diabetes (both type 1 and type 2) in the United States has determined this trend to be happening. (Incidence is the number of diagnosed cases of a disease. Prevalence is the proportion of cases in the population at a given time, rather than the rate of occurrence of new cases.)
The number of new cases (incidence) of diagnosed diabetes in the United States declined by 35%, from 1.7 million new cases per year in 2008 to 1.3 million new cases in 2017. As well, the number of people living with diagnosed diabetes (prevalence) remained stable over the past eight years.
This information was published in the British Medical Journals’ Open Diabetes Research and Care.
While data regarding the prevalence of diabetes are not currently available for the Canadian population, it stands to reason that the trend in this country would be similar to the United States, since the populations of both countries are very similar.
What might be causing this decline?
Researchers aren’t sure what has caused the decline in the incidence and maintained prevalence of diabetes, but it’s believed that there are two main reasons:
- Increased public awareness of the importance of diabetes prevention, with a focus on healthy lifestyle (such as include maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly).
- The blood glucose levels used to determine whether a person had diabetes were lowered in the 1990s. This means that more people were diagnosed with diabetes in the 1990s and early 2000s, and the numbers of new cases are now flattening out.
One would expect that if the incidence of diabetes has been decreasing, that the prevalence of diabetes would also follow. However, the plateau seen in existing cases of the disease may be because people with diabetes are living longer than ever before, due to healthy lifestyle and physical activity changes, as well as adherence to medication regimens. Researchers have also noticed a decline in deaths (especially deaths caused by heart disease) in people with diabetes over the past 10 years.
While these study findings are encouraging, there has not been a decrease in diabetes risk factors, as seen with recent trends in obesity and prediabetes. The sustained prevalence shows a continued high overall burden of diabetes. Diabetes continues to be an epidemic around the world. That’s why it’s important to take the proper steps to prevent it if you are at risk, and to manage it well if you have the condition.