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Number of men with undiagnosed diabetes falls

The number of U.S. men with undiagnosed diabetes has fallen dramatically in the past three decades, with blacks and Hispanics no longer any more likely to unknowingly have the disease than whites, a study found.
/ Source: Reuters

The number of U.S. men with undiagnosed diabetes has fallen dramatically in the past three decades, with blacks and Hispanics no longer any more likely to unknowingly have the disease than whites, a study found.

The research, published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, tracked all diabetes in U.S. men during three periods starting in 1976 and ending in 2002.

The study was based on data from U.S. government health surveys. Blood tests conducted in conjunction with the surveys permitted the tracking of undiagnosed diabetes cases.

While 48 percent of men with diabetes were unaware they had it during the period from 1976 to 1980, the figure fell to 22 percent during the period from 1999 to 2002, the study found.

Diabetes is a leading cause of heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure and amputations.

RAND Corp. researcher James Smith, who conducted the study, said public health education efforts encouraging minorities to get tested for diabetes have virtually wiped out ethnic disparities among U.S. men with undiagnosed diabetes.

While 65 percent of Hispanic men with diabetes were undiagnosed during the 1976 to 1980 period, the rate fell to 21 percent by the 1999 to 2002 period, the study found. For black men with diabetes, undiagnosed cases fell from 45 percent in a period from 1988 to 1994 to 24 percent in the most recent period.

‘Remarkable accomplishment’
“The rates of undiagnosed diabetes have been going down really, really rapidly,” Smith said in a telephone interview. “So instead of half the people with diabetes in the early 1970s not knowing that they were diabetic, now we’re down at about a fifth. That’s really quite a remarkable accomplishment.”

Smith said the study did not look at women because the government survey data on which the findings were based did not consistently account for gestational diabetes, a form of the disease associated with some pregnancies.

But Smith said the survey results suggest a decline in undiagnosed cases of diabetes among women similar to the men.

Some disparities remain. For example, less-educated men are far more likely to have their diabetes remain undiagnosed than better-educated men, the study found.

Smith said his findings indicate the rate of increase of diabetes in the U.S. population may not be as dramatic as some experts have stated. When considering both diagnosed and undiagnosed cases, diabetes rates rose from 6 percent of men in the 1976-to-1980 period, to 9 percent in the 1999-to-2002 period.

“People talk about a doubling in the prevalence rates of diabetes. It is a serious disease and it is, in fact, increasing. But it’s increasing more like 50 percent rather than doubling,” Smith said.

Type-2 diabetes has become more common in the United States and many other countries in recent decades thanks in part to growing rates of obesity. An estimated 20.8 million Americans have diabetes, mostly type 2. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease unrelated to lifestyle.

It is a disease in which the body fails to produce or properly use insulin, a hormone necessary to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy.