updated 1/20/2004 2:31:42 PM ET 2004-01-20T19:31:42

More than half of adult diabetics in the United States are obese and many more have higher-than-recommended blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugar — all factors that raise their risk of complications and death, a government study found.

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“The message needs to get out that doctors and patients need to do more,” said lead author Catherine Cowie, a researcher at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

In diabetes, the body fails to produce or make adequate use of insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. Many cases can be controlled with medication, diet and exercise, and patients must be meticulous about monitoring their blood sugar levels.

Poorly controlled diabetes is a major cause of heart problems, kidney failure, blindness and circulatory problems that lead to amputations. About 65 percent of adult diabetics will die of a heart attack or stroke.

Glimmer of hope
Overall, only about 7 percent of adults with diabetes studied had attained the recommended levels for blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol, the study of health surveys from 1999-2000 and 1988-94 found. The surveys involved a total of about 1,700 participants.

The researchers found a glimmer of hope — significant improvement among diabetics in controlling cholesterol. Still, almost 52 percent of the diabetics in the 2000 survey had cholesterol levels at or above the recommended reading of 200, compared with 66 percent in the earlier survey.

And the percentage of participants who were obese jumped from about 42 percent to about 55 percent.

The study appears in Wednesday’s Journal of the American Medical Association.

Some 13 million American adults and children have diabetes — double the number in 1990 — and about 5 million others probably have undiagnosed cases, according to government data.

Most adults with the disease have type 2 diabetes, which is strongly linked to poor diet, inactivity and being overweight. An increasing number of children are developing this type, too.

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