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Study: Diabetes Up Sharply in 1990s

ASSOCIATED PRESS

08-23-2000: ATLANTA (AP)  — Diabetes increased at an alarming rate in the United States during the past decade rising 70 percent among people in their 30s and health experts are blaming the wired-up, couch-potato culture of the 1990s.

Diabetes is closely tied to obesity, and doctors say the higher incidence of the disease is due in large part to America's weight problem.

Obesity is "not just a cosmetic issue anymore," said Dr. Frank Vinicor, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's diabetes division.

The share of the population diagnosed with diabetes jumped 33 percent nationally, to 6.5 percent, between 1990 and 1998, the government said Wednesday. The rise crossed races and age groups but was sharpest among people ages 30 to 39.

The study, published in the September issue of the journal Diabetes Care, was based on annual telephone surveys in which people were asked whether they have diabetes.

A one-third jump in the incidence of any disease in just eight years is almost unheard of, Vinicor said.

"If that would happen in a disease like tuberculosis, syphilis or AIDS, I think there would be a public outcry, and understandably," Vinicor said. "These trends are very disturbing."

The nation's weight problem is well-documented. The number of Americans considered obese soared from about one in eight in 1991 to nearly one in five in 1998.

Experts blame several factors hundreds of TV channels, stressful jobs that lead us to gulp down fatty fast food, the rise of computers at home and at work, even a construction boom that has gobbled up space for outdoor exercise.

Wednesday's numbers show there are grave consequences to obesity, the government said.

About 3.7 percent of people 30 to 39 had diabetes in 1998, compared with 2.1 percent in 1990, the study showed.

Among 40- to 49-year-olds, the incidence of diabetes rose almost 40 percent, with roughly 5.1 percent of that age group reporting they have the disease. The increase among 50- to 59-year-olds was 31 percent, to almost 10 percent of the population.

About 13 percent of the population 60 and over has the disease.

Diabetics' bodies cannot regulate blood sugar, or glucose.

Some 16 million Americans have the disease, and the number is expected to rise to 22 million by 2025. Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness, kidney failure and limb amputations and dramatically raises the risk of heart attacks. It kills 180,000 Americans each year.

Experts cautioned that the diabetes figures reported Wednesday could severely underestimate the problem because about one-third of American diabetics do not realize they have the disease.

But the sharp rise during the 1990s also could be credited partly to better reporting methods, said Dr. Judith Fradkin, an endocrinologist with the National Institutes of Health.

Type 2 diabetes, which gradually robs the body of its ability to use insulin, is increasingly common among children. Type 2 diabetes is generally found among older patients.

"Kids are spending incredible amounts of time in front of the computer," Fradkin said. "And when you think about the workplace, it's increasingly people sitting at desks. Even at home, we have so many labor-saving devices."

The CDC is pushing for more national attention to obesity as a health crisis, urging communities, churches, governments and schools to get Americans to exercise more and eat better.