Obesity is Up, So Why are Diabetes Rates Dropping?

Obesity has long been held as a diabetes risk: those who are obese tend to be at a higher risk for developing other conditions, including diabetes.  

At least, that used to be the trend.  A surprising study of newly-released federal data indicates that while obesity rates continue to climb—in the United States—new diabetes cases among US adults are falling. In 2009, for example, health data indicated 1.7 million new diabetes diagnoses, but in 2017 that number had fallen to 1.3 million. 

What is, perhaps, most important, is that previous research suggested this decline may be consistent and the new report now proves it has been—and for at least the past ten years.

But this good news is not necessarily cause for celebration; at least, not yet.  Lead study author Dr. Stephen Benoit, of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautions that we still do not know what is driving these trends. 

Diabetes, if you did not know, is simply a metabolic condition in which sugar builds up in the blood.  The most common form of diabetes is easily tied to obesity and, typically, diabetes cases seems to grow in conjunction with obesity rates. 

However, experts are now saying that other factors might be at play in terms of disassociating these trends between 2000 and 2010.  Some experts theorize that, or one, the diagnostic threshold for diabetes was lowered in the 1990s.  This resulted in an escalation in diabetes diagnoses, but the impact of this shift may be leveling out.  

On the other hand, medical technology is making it easier to diagnose diabetes.  This means it is easier than ever for patients, themselves, to test for diabetes at home.  You may not be aware that previous tests required patients to fast for 12 hours or undergo repeated blood draws over a two hour period.  

What may be the most important factor is the uptick in “prediabetes” diagnoses.  Doctors are more apt, these days, to recommend certain interventions if they find higher-than-normal blood sugar levels that might suggest a trend towards diabetes.  

The report has been published in the British Medical Journals’ Open Diabetes Research & Care.