Chronic disease focus

New cases of diabetes are declining in the US, CDC reports

Experts caution that this good news may not be as straightforward as it seems. The nation has a long way to go to manage this epidemic, they say.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported a decrease in the number of new cases of diabetes to 1.4 million in 2014, down from 1.7 million in 2009. While this is a step in the right direction, physicians caution there is still much work to be done in preventing and managing this disease.

“We still have 1.4 million Americans developing diabetes each year, and that is still three times the rate we saw in the early 1980s,” says Jay Shubrook, DO, a professor and director of clinical research and diabetes services at the Touro University California, College of Osteopathic Medicine in Vallejo. “We need to be as persistent at preventing and attacking this disease as it is relentlessly progressive.”

The decline in new cases coincides with the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s recommendation in 2008 that there was limited evidence to screen for diabetes in adults unless they had elevated blood pressure, notes Cole Zanetti, DO, a family physician in Epsom, New Hampshire, who has conducted research on diabetes.

“I’m concerned the CDC’s downward trend may have more to do with this recommendation to back off on screening than an actual decrease in the number of people with diabetes itself,” he says.

3 small changes for healthy living

Regardless of the significance of the CDC’s report, physicians can help their patients avoid diabetes by encouraging healthy lifestyle choices. Such encouragement is usually most effective when DOs partner with patients to offer personalized care.

“Often it needs to come down to a patient factor: feeling better, taking less medication and being able to do more. That really motivates patients to take steps for long-term healthy living,” Dr. Shubrook says.

The following small changes can help patients improve their health in a big way:

  • Focus on small increments of weight loss. “Small amounts of weight loss (3-5% of body weight) have shown to improve glucose control and reduce the need for medications,” says Dr. Shubrook.
  • Use the freezer to curb snacking. A family that Dr. Zanetti cares for struggled with midnight snacking and found portion control success by freezing fruit, such as grapes or berries. “They still get a sweet snack but because it is frozen, they can’t eat it as fast,” he says.
  • Put it in writing. During a recent appointment, Dr. Shubrook and his patient worked together on a plan detailing the actionable steps she would take to lose 5 pounds. She signed the plan and they each got a copy. “This setup helps patients with positive behavior change by putting them in charge,” says Dr. Shubrook.

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