Surge in Diabetes Tied to Unhealthy Lifestyles: Doctors Call for Federal Research Funds

By Price, Joyce Howard | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 3, 1997 | Go to article overview
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Surge in Diabetes Tied to Unhealthy Lifestyles: Doctors Call for Federal Research Funds


Price, Joyce Howard, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The president-elect of the American Diabetes Association, Dr. Gerald Bernstein, says no one should be surprised by the explosion of diabetes in the United States today, confirmed in a new federal report.

Given that the population is older, fatter and less active, Dr. Bernstein says, the continued increase in diabetes was predictable. He also criticizes the federal government for "totally inadequate" levels of support for research.

With all its complications, he says, diabetes costs the nation about $140 billion a year - about 15 percent of all U.S. health expenditures.

"While cancer, HIV [and other major diseases] get $5 to $10 for research for every $100 spent on health care, diabetes gets just 25 cents," says Dr. Bernstein, director of the Harold Rifkin Diabetes Center in New York.

A report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about 16 million Americans currently have diabetes, but only about 10 million have been diagnosed. The number of diagnosed cases is up from 1.6 million in 1958.

Diabetes is the nation's seventh leading killer and was the primary cause of more than 59,200 deaths in 1995, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. But data also indicate it may have contributed to as many as 180,000 deaths that year.

"We are becoming a more overweight population, we are less active and we are also getting somewhat older," says Dr. Frank Vinicor, director of the CDC's diabetes division. "If you put all of those factors together, we are seeing a chronic disease epidemic occurring."

Diabetes is a disease caused by a deficiency of insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas that is necessary for the metabolism of sugar.

Of the estimated 16 million diabetics in the United States today, less than 1 million have Type I diabetes, meaning their pancreases do not work at all, and they are insulin-dependent. Type I diabetes usually occurs in childhood or adolescence.

The overwhelming majority of diabetics have Type 2 diabetes, a form of the disease that usually occurs after age 40 and is usually treated by diet, pills or both.

"The prevalence of Type 2 diabetes is increasing tremendously in the United States as people adapt more sedentary lifestyles and obesity increases," says Dr. Stephen Clement, director of the Diabetes Center at Georgetown University Medical Center.

Dr. Bernstein says "more women die of diabetes than breast cancer."

Nevertheless, he says, it has been hard to "politicize" diabetes except when young children are involved, because the average Type 2 diabetic is a "fat [adult] individual who's not compliant" with recommendations that he or she exercise and adopt a healthy diet.

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