Diabetes Dragging Down America's Health: Reports

Increasingly, young people are suffering from the obesity-linked illness

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By Steven Reinberg and E.J. Mundell
HealthDay Reporters

THURSDAY, Nov. 16, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Half of the estimated 21 million adult Americans with diabetes now rate themselves as having only "fair" or "poor" health, and people between 18 and 44 years of age are increasingly affected, a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds.

In fact, people with diabetes are three times more likely than others to say their health is flagging, the CDC report found.

The news is troubling because "fair or poor health among persons with diabetes is also associated with the presence of diabetes-related complications such as lower extremity amputation, blindness, kidney failure, and cardiovascular disease," noted the editors of the CDC journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, which will publish the findings Friday.

In the study, CDC researchers looked over 2005 data from the federal Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, an ongoing survey of adult Americans' health and health risk factors. Among the poll's questions: "Would you say that, in general, your health is excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor?"

According to the survey, almost half (49.3 percent) of those with diabetes said they were only in "fair" or "poor" health -- a number three times higher than that of people without diabetes.

The rate of fair/poor health among people 45 and older with diabetes has remained stable over the past 10 years, hovering around 50 percent. But the CDC noted that health complaints are rising among younger Americans. Among people with diabetes aged 18 to 44, reports of fair/poor health rose from about 36 percent in 1996 to 43.4 percent by 2005, the researchers found.

Race and availability of insurance were also key to health. Hispanic Americans, especially, are 60 percent more likely than whites to note poor health linked to diabetes, and a lack of health insurance boosted the likelihood of poorer health by 70 percent, the study found.

Diabetes care is becoming an increasing burden on the U.S. health care system, according to two other government reports released Wednesday.

Between 1996 and 2003, the number of adult diabetes patients soared from 9.9 million to 13.7 million, and their individual annual spending on prescription drugs jumped almost 86 percent, from $476 to $883.

According to the reports, from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, overall care for patients with diabetes -- including treatment in and out of hospital and for other illnesses such as congestive heart failure -- averaged more than $10,000 annually.

The new diabetes statistics come on the heels of good and bad news from the federal government's annual Health, United States report for 2006, issued Wednesday.

That report found that diabetes continues to be a growing threat, especially among older adults. Eleven percent of adults aged 40 to 59, and 23 percent of those 60 and older, have diabetes.

The report also focuses on the problem of chronic pain.

According to the report, 25 percent of adults say they've experienced pain that lasts at least one day, and 10 percent say they've lived with pain that persists a year or more.

"We are living longer, and we have more chronic conditions," said lead author Amy Bernstein, chief of the analytic studies branch at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics. "Diabetes rates are increasing, obesity rates are increasing. And, as people live longer, they get more chronic conditions, including pain."

According to the report, 21 percent of adults aged 65 and older said they had experienced pain in the past month that lasted for more than 24 hours. And almost three-fifths of adults 65 and older said their pain had lasted a year or more.

Between the periods 1988-1994 and 1999-2002, the percentage of adults who took a narcotic drug to alleviate pain in the past month rose from 3.2 percent to 4.2 percent.

The news from the report wasn't all bad, however. Despite the rise in obesity and diabetes, life expectancy for Americans reached a record 77.9 years in 2004, up from 77.5 in 2003 and 75.4 in 1990. In addition, since 1990, the gap in life expectancy between men and women has narrowed from seven to just over five years. Among women, life expectancy is just over 80 years, and it's almost 75 for men. Also, the gap in life expectancy between white and blacks has narrowed from seven years in 1990 to five years in 2004.

At the same time, infant mortality dropped to 6.8 deaths per 1,000 births in 2004, down from 6.9 deaths per 1,000 births in 2003.

Heart disease remains the nation's leading killer, but deaths from heart disease fell 16 percent between 2000 and 2004, according to the report. And deaths from cancer -- the number 2 killer -- fell 8 percent. The death rate for heart disease was 217 deaths per 100,000 in 2004; the death rate for cancer was 186 per 100,000.

Paying for needed care remains a problem for millions, however. According to the federal data, the United States spent an average of $6,280 per person on health care in 2004. However, 7 percent of people under 65 said they didn't get needed care in the past year because of the cost.

More information

You can read the entire Health, United States, 2006 report on the nation's well-being at the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics.

SOURCES: Amy Bernstein, Sc.D., chief, analytic studies branch, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics, Hyattsville, Md.; Nov. 15, 2006, Health, United States, 2006, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Nov. 15, 2006, news release, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; Nov. 17, 2006, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report

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