CDC reports longest-ever decline in new diabetes cases

New diabetes diagnoses in the U.S. are trending down for the first time in two decades, the CDC has reported, declining 35% since a peak in 2009.

According to the latest numbers from the agency, published in BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care, new cases of diabetes in the U.S. declined from 1.7 million in 2008 to 1.3 million in 2017, with the number of people living with diagnosed diabetes remaining flat for the past eight years. It’s good news, considering the fact that diabetes prevalence doubled in the U.S. in the 1990s and 2000s.

First author Stephen R. Benoit and his colleagues found the number of people living with diagnosed diabetes increased by 4.4% per year from 1990 through 2009, reaching a peak of 8.2 cases per 100 adults. After that it saw a sharp fall, plateauing to 8 per 100 adults through 2017. In 2019, Benoit and co-authors said the incidence of diagnosed diabetes in the U.S. is around the same as it was in 2000.

Though the current plateau is encouraging—and suggests federal and state efforts to curb unhealthy habits and promote metabolic health have been somewhat successful—the researchers have been unable to pinpoint the underlying cause of stagnancy. Benoit et al. said it could be driven in part by increased awareness of type 2 diabetes prevention, shifts in diagnostic and screening practices and a public emphasis on diet and physical activity. Diabetics are also starting to live longer, they said, but it’s important to take all these factors with a grain of salt.

“Although an encouraging sign of success, due to the persistence of major risk factors such as obesity and pre-diabetes, we caution that trends are likely affected by changing awareness, detection and diagnostic practices,” the authors wrote. “Even in the event of true reductions in incidence, the high prevalence and declining mortality signifies a continued high overall burden of diabetes. For these reasons, we urge a continued emphasis on multilevel, multidisciplinary prevention to reduce both type 2 diabetes and diabetes complications, along with improved surveillance of trends in screening and detection.”

The team said Non-Hispanic white adults seemed to drive the decrease in diabetes prevalence, while Hispanic adults saw an opposing “significantly increasing trend” in incidence over the study period. As a whole, though, Benoit and his co-authors said their results revealed the longest period of a sustained plateau in diabetes prevalence since the 1980s and the longest period of declining incidence in history.

“After an almost-20-year increase in the national prevalence and incidence of diagnosed diabetes, an eight-year period of stable prevalence and decrease in incidence has occurred,” they wrote. “Causes of the plateauing and decrease are unclear but the overall burden of diabetes remains high and deserves continued monitoring and intervention.”