Recently, my colleagues and I participated in a briefing on the current burden of diabetes in the United States provided to Rear Admiral John Agwunobi, assistant secretary for health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. During our discussion, he and his staff raised several tough questions. We were able to respond effectively to them because we were familiar with data resources that contain current, reliable and generalizable public health information. I suspect that many other professionals in aging have been in similar situationstimes when having a good information source could make the difference between an evidence-based answer and an educated guess.
One recently developed resource for data on elders' health is Trends in Health and Aging (THA), available online at www.cdc.gov/nchs/agingact.htm. The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) created this interactive tool with support from the National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Aging. The data are nationally representative, easy to use and free for all users.
EXPLORES HEALTH PATTERNS
THA can be used to examine a variety of topics and health outcomes. The database provides estimates of the prevalence of common health conditions among adults in the United States, addresses many questions regarding healthcare use and expenditures, and includes details about the leading causes of death. Moreover, the provision of trend data enables researchers and public health analysts to explore temporal patterns in the health of older adults.
The THA site's inclusion of data on Medicare service use and expenditure facilitates comparisons of healthcare costs among Medicare beneficiaries with different chronic conditions. As a diabetes researcher, I have used those data to quantify the excessive economic burden of diabetes compared with other health conditions among older adults.
For example, this online tool helped me demonstrate that healthcare expenses among people with diabetes have risen more than costs among people with other prevalent health conditions, such as heart disease, pulmonary disease or cancer. In 1992, healthcare costs for people with diabetes ranked fifth among nine leading chronic health conditions among elders in the United States, and its rank had increased to second by 2003.
In addition, data from the THA website demonstrated the increasing importance of diabetes-related hospitalization rates among older men. In 1990, for instance, men ages 65 to 74 released from inpatient care with diabetes listed as a principal, underlying or contributing diagnosis ranked sixth among hospital discharges. By 2004, diabetes ranked second among diagnoses in …