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Diabetes, Obesity on Rise in U.S., Statistics Show

  [ 216 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • October 6, 2003

By Maggie Fox (Reuters Health and Science Correspondent)

Diabetes rates are shooting up in the United States, with a 27 percent increase between 1997 and 2002, according to official government statistics.

The annual snapshot of the nation's health, put together by the National Center for Health Statistics, also shows that nearly a third of Americans are obese and two-thirds overweight.

But life expectancy at birth continues to rise, reaching a new record high of 77.2 years in 2001, up nearly 2 years since 1990. Girls born in the United States in 2001 can expect to live 79.8 years, an increase of one year from 1990. The life expectancy for boys born in 2001 was 74.4 years, up two years since 1990.

"This tells the whole story, that while we are living longer and we are healthier, that there are many things that are not going in the right direction," researcher Amy Bernstein, who put together the report, said in a telephone interview.

One bad development is the rise in type-II or adult-onset diabetes, which can be prevented with proper diet and exercise.

The report finds that 6.5 percent of American adults were diagnosed with diabetes in 2002 compared with 5.1 percent in 1997. Another recent study shows that about 12 million adults have been diagnosed with diabetes and an additional 5 million adults have it but do not know it.

Another 12 million adults have impaired fasting glucose tolerance -- meaning they will develop diabetes if they do not do something right away. That means losing weight, exercising and eating better.

"We are at the cusp of a problem that can even get much worse," Bernstein said.

The development affects not only patients themselves, but the health care system. Diabetes is the fifth leading cause of death among women and sixth among men. The condition is associated with heart disease, chronic kidney disease, blindness, and amputations.

"Almost one in five hospitalizations in people over 45 has a diagnosis of diabetes associated with it," Bernstein said.

One reason for the epidemics of both obesity and diabetes is clear -- Americans do not exercise nearly enough.

The report finds that about a quarter of all Americans admit they get virtually no exercise at home or at work.

"People are not exercising as much as recommended," Bernstein said. "In fact, the trend is going in the opposite direction."

The report finds that 28 percent of women 18 and older and nearly 22 percent of men say they get little or no exercise at home, work or in their leisure time.

Just 21 percent of men and 17 percent of women get "high" levels of activity -- meaning they are active at work and get in the equivalent of five brisk, 30-minute walks a week or three intense sessions of exercise a week in their leisure time.

Obesity has more than doubled from 15 percent in 1980 to 31 percent in 2000. "Sixty-five percent of adults ages 20 to 74 were overweight or obese in 1999-2000," the NCHS, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (news - web sites), said.

There is plenty of good news in the report. It found the gap in life expectancy between blacks and whites has narrowed significantly to 5.5 years in 2001, down from 1990, when whites on average lived 7 years longer.

Infant mortality reached a record low in 2001 of 6.8 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, down from 6.9 in 2000.

It found that 81 percent of women 18 years and over in 2000 had a recent Pap smear, up from 74 percent in 1980. Pap smears can detect changes that, untreated, would lead to deadly cervical cancer.

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