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U.S. Diabetes Deaths Stay High in 2021 After Sharp Increase

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U.S. Diabetes Deaths Stay High in 2021 After Sharp Increase

There were more than 100,000 deaths related to diabetes in the United States in 2021 for the second year in a row, representing a sharp increase in deaths compared with previous years, according to a new analysis by Reuters using provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The analysis suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a large impact on deaths related to diabetes — whether that impact has come directly from the viral infection, or from changed habits or delays in getting health care. Regardless of the specific causes of the sustained increase in diabetes deaths, the numbers indicate that the current health care system isn’t effective at limiting deaths related to diabetes — and that health care providers may need to reimagine how they provide diabetes care in order to reverse the upward trend in diabetes deaths.

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The analysis shows that in 2019, diabetes was a listed cause of over 87,000 deaths, representing the seventh highest cause of death in the United States. Even this number — before a spike in deaths in 2020 and 2021 — shows that health care was lacking for many people with diabetes before the COVID-19 pandemic presented new challenges in accessing diabetes care, and led to outsize health risks for people with diabetes who developed the viral infection. Compared with 2019, diabetes-related deaths increased by 17% in 2020 and by 15% in 2021 — with both numbers much higher than in any previous year. These numbers, it’s important to note, exclude deaths that are directly attributed to COVID-19 — but may include deaths in people who officially recovered from COVID-19, but were left in worse health than before the viral infection.

More comprehensive approach to diabetes care needed

The Reuters article notes that these numbers give added urgency to a recent report, issued by the National Clinical Care Commission — a policy-recommending group created by Congress — which states that the United States needs to develop a more comprehensive approach to preventing and effectively treating type 2 diabetes, with the aim of preventing life-threatening complications. The commission noted that right now, 37 million U.S. residents — representing 11% of the population — have diabetes, and that if current trends continue, one in three people are expected to develop diabetes at some point in their life. The report concludes that diabetes “must be addressed as a societal problem that cuts across many sectors, including food, housing, commerce, transportation and the environment.”

Among other recommendations, the commission’s report recommends the creation by Congress of a new Office of National Diabetes Policy, which would coordinate diabetes prevention and treatment efforts across and outside the U.S. government. It also recommends limiting insulin price increases to the overall inflation rate, letting the federal government negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, and waiving out-of-pocket costs for “high-value” diabetes treatments and devices including certain prescription drugs, continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) systems, and basic blood glucose testing supplies. In other areas, the report recommends better incentives to buy fruits and vegetables in federal food assistance programs, as well as guaranteeing paid family leave to help new mothers breastfeed — which has been shown both to reduce the risk for diabetes in mothers, and to reduce the future risk for obesity and diabetes in children.

The latest report by the National Clinical Care Commission is the first similar report on diabetes since 1975. Since then, the Reuters article notes, the rate of diabetes among U.S. adults has increased from 5.3% to 14.3% in 2018. Direct medical costs related to diabetes were estimated at $237 billion in 2017, with another $90 billion in estimated lost productivity due to the disease.

Want to learn more diabetes basics? Read “Welcome to Diabetes” for type 2, “Type 1 Diabetes Questions and Answers” for type 1, and “Gestational Diabetes: Are You at Risk?” for gestational diabetes.

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips on social media

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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