Real number of diabetes related deaths in US much higher than figures suggest

by Barbara Hewitt on January 30, 2017

Diabetes is killing three times more people in the United States than previously thought as the figures are skewed by deaths being attributed to other conditions such as heart and kidney disease.

According to new research deaths caused by diabetes are as high as 12%, much more than the 4% recorded in official statistics which means that it is in fact the third major cause of death in the US.

The new analysis, led by the Boston University School of Public Health, used two large data sets that included more than 300,000 people to estimate the fraction of deaths attributable to diabetes among people aged 30 to 84 between 1997 and 2011.

To come up with the estimates, the researchers calculated the prevalence of diabetes in the population, as well as excess mortality risk among people with diabetes over five years of follow up.

The proportion of deaths attributable to diabetes was estimated to be 11.5% using the National Health Interview Study (NHIS) and 11.7% using the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

The proportion of deaths overall was significantly higher than the 3.3% to 3.7% of deaths in which diabetes is identified on death certificates as the underlying cause.

The frequency with which diabetes is listed as the underlying cause of death is not a reliable indicator of its actual contribution to the national mortality profile, according to Andrew Stokes, assistant professor of global health at BUSPH, and co-author Samuel Preston, professor of sociology and a researcher with the Population Studies Centre at the University of Pennsylvania.

They said their analysis indicates that diabetes was the third leading cause of death in the United States in 2010, after diseases of the heart and malignant neoplasms.

‘Our results demonstrate that diabetes is a major feature on the landscape of American mortality, and they reinforce the need for robust population level interventions aimed at diabetes prevention and care,’ Stokes pointed out.

When both diabetes and heart disease are mentioned on a death certificate, the researchers explained that the decision about whether diabetes is listed as the underlying cause is highly variable.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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