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Glucose Control in Diabetes Getting Worse in the United States

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Glucose Control in Diabetes Getting Worse in the United States

Blood glucose control in people with diabetes appears to have gotten worse in recent years in the United States, according to a new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers looked at data collected as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) between 1999 and 2018 to look at trends in diabetes treatment and control, including blood glucose control. They found that diabetes control broadly improved between 1999 and the early 2010s — but then this improvement stalled and reversed into a decline. Between two different three-year periods — 2007-2010 and 2015-2018 — the proportion of study participants with diabetes who had an A1C level (a measure of long-term blood glucose control) below 7% dropped from 57.4% to 50.5%.

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Blood sugar control worsened, cholesterol control improved

Control of blood lipid (cholesterol and triglyceride) levels, though, seems to have improved slightly in people with diabetes. Using a non-HDL (high-density lipoprotein, or “good”) cholesterol level below 130 mg/dl as the standard for good lipid control, the percentage of people with good control increased from 52.3% in 2011-2014 to 55.7% in 2015-2018. But blood pressure control got worse during the same period, with the percentage of people with diabetes who achieved a level below 140/90 mmHg dropping from 74.2% in 2011-2014 to 70.4% in 2015-2018. The proportion of people with diabetes who reached all three target levels — for A1C, cholesterol, and blood pressure — rose from 9.0% in 1999-2002 to 24.9% in 200-–2010, before falling again slightly to 22.2% in 2015-2018.

The study also points to some potential reasons why diabetes control has stagnated or gotten worse in different areas since 2010. After 2010, the proportion of people with diabetes who took any glucose-lowering or blood-pressure-lowering drug stayed roughly the same, after increasing in previous years. The use of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs also levels off after 2014, which makes the improvement seen through 2018 quite remarkable. And after 2010, the use of combination drug therapy for uncontrolled blood pressure actually went down, while the use of combination therapy for uncontrolled blood glucose leveled off. The study authors speculate that some doctors may have backed off from more intensive blood glucose control after a couple of large studies showed limited cardiovascular benefits from doing so — and that this caution may be having damaging effects.

“These trends are a wake-up call, since they mean that millions of Americans with diabetes are at higher risk for major complications,” said study author Michael Fang, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in a press release. “Our study suggests that worsening control of diabetes may already be having a detrimental effect at the national level.”

Want to learn more about blood glucose management? See our “Blood Sugar Chart,” then read “Blood Sugar Monitoring: When to Check and Why” and “Strike the Spike II: How to Manage High Blood Glucose After Meals.”

Living with type 2 diabetes? Check out our free type 2 e-course!

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

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A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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