New cases of diabetes decrease, but experts continue to call it an epidemic in Kentucky and the U.S.

The number of new diabetes cases in adults has significantly decreased in Kentucky and the U.S., reversing a trend, according to a federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, but experts say there is still a diabetes epidemic.

In 1991-2009, adult diabetes cases in the U.S. increased sharply from 573,000 per year to more than 1.7 million. But in 2009-14, they “decreased significantly to approximately 1.4 million,” says the report.

“This has been really encouraging, but we do need to recognize that those rates are still 60 percent higher than what they were in the ’80s,” Dr. Edward Gregg, chief of the epidemiology and statistics branch at the CDC, told The Huffington Post. “Even though we’re seeing a reduction, we had such a large increase that we’re still at such a high level.” Since 1980, the number of cases has more than tripled, says the CDC.

Gregg said he believes the recent decrease in new cases could be a result of people getting more exercise and eating healthier, along with increased awareness of the diabetes epidemic.

Kentucky’s statistics are mostly paralleling the national figures, Ja’nel Johnson reports for WFPL after interviewing Theresa Renn, manager of the Kentucky Diabetes Prevention and Control Program.

“They are also coming down as well,” Renn said. “It looks like we may have had a little bit higher peak and are also coming down nicely as well.”

Kentucky’s most recent figure was 7.6 new diabetes cases per 1,000 adults Its peak, in 2007, was 11.2 new cases per 1,000 adults, Johnson reports.

In 2013, 10.6 percent of Kentucky adults (359,000) had diabetes. In 2000, the numbers were 6.5 percent and 240,000 adults, according to the 2015 Kentucky Diabetes Report. The current national rate is 9.7 percent. And 289,000 Kentucky adults have been diagnosed with prediabetes, making them at high risk of progression to diabetes.

Diabetes can cause heart disease, blindness, kidney failure and leg amputations. In The Great Diabetes Epidemic: A manifesto for Control and Prevention, Dr. Gilbert H. Friedell and J. Isaac Joyner, offer some details, excerpted in an op-ed for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

“This year an estimated 72,000 Kentuckians will develop significant visual impairment, including blindness. There will be some 1,000 amputations, about three a day in the state, and an estimated 800 people will develop kidney failure, many of whom will start dialysis,” they write.

“The cost of dealing with the complications is enormous. Dialysis alone costs about $80,000 per person per year. Diabetes patients on Medicare cost three times as much per year as those without diabetes, $15,000 versus $5,000.

The annual price tag for those with diabetes on Medicaid in Kentucky is about $1 billion. The total annual cost of diabetes in Kentucky for 2015 is estimated to be $5.6 billion.”

Friedell and Joyner also say it is time for Kentucky to recognize diabetes is an epidemic, and adopt a public-health approach that includes widespread preventive screening, as the CDC has recommended since 1994.

Teri Wood, chronic-disease epidemiologist for the Kentucky Department of Public Health, told Johnson that the poor and less educated are more likely to get diabetes.

“Whether it’s because people have less access to healthy food, less knowledge about how to eat healthfully, perhaps less access to places to be physically active … and access to health care can be very important,” Wood said.

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