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Diabetes Reaches Record Levels

October 31, 1997

ATLANTA (AP) _ The number of Americans living with diabetes has increased dramatically since 1958 to the highest level on record, and one reason is that people are too fat, the government said Thursday.

As of 1997, there were 10 million people alive who had been diagnosed with the disease, a sixfold increase compared with the 1.6 million in 1958, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

``We are becoming a more overweight population, we are less active and we are also getting somewhat older,″ said 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.″

Doctors have also gotten better at diagnosing diabetes, but Vinicor said that accounts for only a small part of the increase.

And it’s not just a U.S. problem. The CDC and the World Health Organization estimate that 125 million people worldwide have diabetes. That number is expected to double by the year 2025.

The CDC estimates 15.7 million people in the United States currently have diabetes, a condition in which blood sugar levels rise out of control. But more than 5 million don’t know they have it. In its early stages, the symptoms of diabetes aren’t very apparent.

Diabetes is caused by a deficiency of insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas that controls blood sugar. High blood sugar damages the nerves. Diabetes can cause blindness and kidney disease and force the amputation of the feet and legs from infections that lead to gangrene.

Between 1980 and 1994, diabetes rose 33 percent among blacks, from 40.1 diagnosed cases for every 1,000 people to 53.5 cases per 1,000. Among whites during the same years, the rate rose 11 percent, from 23.8 cases per 1,000 to 26.4.

Obesity and lack of exercise increase the risk of diabetes. So does age: The body becomes less effective at producing insulin and more resistant to it.

The American Diabetes Association recommended in June that all people 45 and older get their blood sugar tested every year.

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