Some would say significant strides have been made in combatting the incidence of type-2 diabetes in the U.S. – others would disagree. Recent research gives credence to both camps, according to Forbes. Most people with the condition have type-2 diabetes, totaling roughly 27 million people in the U.S.

Roughly half of the U.S. adult population has diabetes or is “prediabetic,” researchers wrote in a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Despite this appalling number, the prevalence of the disease seems to be plateauing after years of increasing.

The researchers noted that almost 40 percent of U.S. adults had prediabetes and 12 to 14 percent had diabetes between 2011 and 2012. The number of adults with diabetes rose sharply between 1988 and 2012, but the growth has slowed and has given the medical community hope that the increase will halt.

“The current data provide a glimmer of hope,” endocrinologists William Herman and Amy Rothberg, at the University of Michigan, said in an accompanying editorial. “The shift in cultural attitudes toward obesity, the American Medical Association’s (AMA’s) recognition of obesity as a disease, and the increasing focus on societal interventions to address food policy and the built environment” were helping to alleviate circumstances that contribute to obesity.

What is Diabetes?
Statistics are imperfect for diabetes, however, as the goalposts for what constitutes having the disease are moving constantly. (For our purposes, when we generally refer to diabetes, it implies type-2 diabetes.) The changing definition of diabetes is indicative of more attention being given to the disease. And despite the altered quantifying of what diabetes is, more light being shed on the disease, and potentially on more people who may not have “had” it in the past, have led to efforts to increase health awareness.

This awareness has benefited people with diabetes, providing them with more treatment options, more tools and technology to monitor the diseases, and better access to care programs. Prediabetes, on the other hand, has been questioned by some medical professionals. According to researchers from University College London and the Mayo Clinic, the label of prediabetes is “unhelpful and unnecessary.”

“Pre-diabetes is an artificial category with virtually zero clinical relevance,” said lead author John S Yudkin, Emeritus Professor of Medicine at UCL. “There is no proven benefit of giving diabetes treatment drugs to people in this category before they develop diabetes, particularly since many of them would not go on to develop diabetes anyway.”

So although a significant portion of the U.S. adult population has been deemed prediabetic, this may not be the best way to find a solution to the problem.

“We need to stop looking at this as a clinical problem with pharmaceutical solutions and focus on improving public health,” Yudkin said about the prediabetes label. “The whole population would benefit from a more healthy diet and more physical activity, so it makes no sense to single out so many people and tell them that they have a disease.”

A Global Problem

Though diabetes has been seen as an American problem, linked to diet and obesity, the global nature of the disease shows that the U.S. isn’t the only country that is suffering. The World Health Organization reported that 1.5 million deaths are directly attributable to diabetes each year, 9 percent of adults in the world have the disease, and rates are rising everywhere.

Courtesy of Unsplash/Anders Jildén
Courtesy of Unsplash/Anders Jildén

Diabetes prevention, essentially limiting the number of people who would be considered “prediabetic,” has manifested in a number of ways around the world:

  •     The Canadian Diabetes Association has called for taxes on sugary beverages, according to the Vancouver Sun.  
  •    “Let’s Prevent Diabetes,” a regional program in the UK will be rolled out nationally if the initial success continues, according to Diabetes.co.uk.  
  • The AMA has linked with the YMCA and its Diabetes Prevention Program through the Improving Health Outcomes initiative. The pilot program will work with 11 physician practice pilot sites in four states across the country.
  •  Since China has a third of the world’s diabetes sufferers, according to the New York Times, and the country has deemed it a “major public-health crisis.”

The global nature of the disease, and the potential to stop its rise, has led the WHO to set a global target to halt the rise of diabetes by 2025.