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Type 2 Diabetes Striking at Younger Age

Average age of diagnosis has dropped from 52 to 46, study finds

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 26, 2005 (HealthDayNews) -- With two-thirds of U.S. adults overweight or obese, the number of people with type 2 diabetes continues to rise while their ages at the time of diagnosis drops, a new study finds.

In the late 1980s and early '90s, the average age of an adult diagnosed with type 2 diabetes was 52, but now people are being diagnosed in their middle 40s.

This striking drop in age may mean that screening for the disease should begin earlier than is currently recommended, researchers from the Medical University of South Carolina said in their report.

"The age of diagnosis of diabetes has decreased in the United States population by six years," said lead researcher Dr. Richelle J. Koopman, an assistant professor of family medicine. Surprisingly, this decrease occurred in slightly more than 10 years, she added.

"This reduction in age is bigger than we thought it would be," Koopman said, "although the reason we did the study was we suspected there might be a difference. But this is a big difference to occur in such a small amount of time."

In their study, Koopman and her colleagues looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey that covered the course of a decade, from 1988 to 2000. The researchers looked at the age when adults 20 and older were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

The researchers found the average age at diagnosis decreased from 52 to 46 years. And the racial and ethnic differences in age at diagnosis seen from 1988 to 1994 were no longer found in the data from 1999 to 2000.

The report appears in the January/February issue of the Annals of Family Medicine.

Koopman believes that one reason type 2 diabetes is being diagnosed earlier is because the criteria for diagnoses have changed. The American Diabetes Association guidelines have been revised so diabetes is diagnosed at a lower level of blood sugar then before, she said.

Another reason for earlier diagnoses is that the American Diabetes Association and other groups have alerted doctors to the importance of spotting and treating the blood sugar disease. In addition, there has been increased public awareness of diabetes, Koopman said.

"But whatever the reason, if people are getting diabetes six years younger, that might have implications for when we decide to screen people and what the public health burden of diabetes is going to be," Koopman said. In addition, more and more people are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in what has been described as an epidemic, she noted.

From a public health perspective, Koopman believes that even more people will be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, increasing medication use and the overall cost to society dramatically. "In addition, more people will be having other health problems at a younger age," she said.

Type 2 diabetes complications can include heart disease and stroke, kidney damage, nerve damage and vision problems, including blindness.

Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine, called the new research "extremely understated."

Type 2 diabetes, which used to be called adult-onset diabetes, is now striking children, due largely to the obesity epidemic, he said.

"The condition is diagnosed routinely in children under the age of 10, as a result of epidemic childhood obesity," Katz said. "To see the true decline in the mean age at diagnosis for type 2 diabetes, we need a data set that includes children. The Koopman study conveys news that is none too good. But the reality is, in fact, far worse."

More information

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases can tell you more about type 2 diabetes.

SOURCES: Richelle J. Koopman, M.D., M.S., assistant professor, family medicine, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston; David L. Katz, M.D., M.P.H., director, Prevention Research Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn.; January/February 2005 Annals of Family Medicine
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