Despite the good news, experts warn against being complacent, because new cases are still high among minorities and those with little education.
There had been promising signs: fewer calories consumed daily by children and adults, sharp declines in the amount of soda Americans drink.
But today, CDC released data that show a measurable drop in new diabetes cases for the first time in a generation. In 2008, there were 1.7 million new cases, and only 1.4 million in 2014. That’s enough to be statistically significant.
Experts can’t be entirely sure why, and it’s too soon to declare victory. But after years of watching the numbers climb, they’ll take the good news.
“It seems pretty clear that incidence rates have now actually started to drop,” CDC’s Edward Gregg, a diabetes researcher, The New York Times.
For years, CDC has led the charge to encourage Americans to eat healthier food and exercise more. It’s not entirely clear if the 5-year decline is due to those efforts, or if the disease has peaked, because researchers believe there are still an estimated 86 million Americans with prediabetes.
Earlier this year, CDC and the American Medical Association launched an initiative, Prevent Diabetes STAT, to identify those in the prediabetes stage and intervene before they progress to diabetes. Both individual interventions and population health approaches are needed, CDC’s Ann Albright, PhD, RD, wrote in Evidence-Based Diabetes Management.
Today’s news aside, diabetes still afflicts 1 in 10 Americans and is concentrated among the poor and minority populations. CDC data show that diabetes rates are still double what they were in the 1990s, and most of the decline has occurred among well-educated whites.
Despite the arrival of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), many states with the highest rates of diabetes did not expand Medicaid, leaving screening and treatment off limits to those residents in the “coverage gap.”
Still, there are signs that even states with histories of high rates of diabetes and obesity are starting to take the problem seriously. Mississippi, which has a 35% obesity rate and a 13% diabetes rate, has sought a waiver to pay for bariatric surgery with Medicaid dollars. Arkansas, which has high rates of both diabetes and obesity, launched a 10-year plan to combat obesity in October.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Gregg cautioned that it would a mistake to become complacent at the good news, especially given the number of new cases among some subgroups. "It is still a huge problem,” he said. “This is still one of the largest public health problems we are facing."