U.S. Diabetes Prevalence: 1935 to 2011

From 1935 to 1996, the prevalence of diagnosed type 2 diabetes [in the U.S.] climbed nearly 765%.

765%—Wow!  This statistic is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as cited in Increased Consumption of Refined Carbohydrates and the Epidemic of Type 2 Diabetes in the United States: an Ecologic Assessment, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2004, vol. 79, no.5, pp: 774-779.

I thought 765% might be a misprint, so I did some digging.  A similar figure is in DHHS Publication No. (PHS) 82-1232 published in 1981:

  • Diabetes prevalence rose from 0.4% of the population in 1935,  to 2.4% in 1979.

This is a six-fold increase.  The major part of the upward trend started in 1960.  Interestingly, that’s when corn syrup started working its way into our food supply.  Coincidence?  The authors of the Department of Human Services paper write:

Preliminary evaluation of these trends suggests that the change in the prevalence of known diabetes has resulted from improvements both in detection of diabetes among high-risk groups and in survivorship among persons with diabetes.

To me, it sounds like they weren’t considering an true increase in the number of new diabetes cases (i.e., incidence), but better detection of existing cases and improved longevity of existing patients (prevalence).  Incidence and prevalence are often confusing.  Wikipedia has a clarifying article.  These days, both incidence and prevalence of diabetes are greatly increased over 1935 levels.

In January, 2011, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the latest estimates for prevalence of diabetes and prediabetes.

  • 8.3% of the total U.S. population has either diagnosed or undiagnosed diabetes (earlier percentages in this post were for diagnosed cases only)
  • Nearly 27% of American adults age 65 or older have diabetes (overwhelmingly type 2)
  • 6% of the U.S. adult population has diagnosed diabetes (My calculation: Population in 2011 was 311 million; with 18.8 million diagnosed cases of diabetes, 7 million undiagnosed)
  • Half of Americans 65 and older have prediabetes
  • 11% of U.S. adults (nearly 26 million) have diabetes (overwhelmingly type 2)
  • 35% of adults (79 million) have prediabetes, and most of those affected don’t know it

Here’s a post about prevention of type 2 diabetes.

I suspect that overconsumption of concentrated sugars and refined starches (e.g., grains) has contributed to the prevalence of type 2 diabetes and overweight lately.  A paleo-style diet restricts those quite a bit, and therefore, could prevent some cases of diabetes.

Steve Parker, M.D.

PS: The paleo diet is also referred to as the Old Stone Age, Stone Age, hunter-gatherer, caveman, and ancestral diet.

5 responses to “U.S. Diabetes Prevalence: 1935 to 2011

  1. While I have no doubt that T2D has increased at an alarming rate, it may not be quite as bad as the numbers indicate. In my mom’s day, diabetes wasn’t diagnosed until one had glucose in their urine, and haven’t the serum glucose definitions of prediabetes and diabetes also changed?

  2. The trouble is, we ate lots of white sugar, candy and white bread in the past.
    We had less soda, less variety of grains and grain products, no soy, no HFCS, fewer dried legumes. And more animal fat, including dairy, and organ meats.
    I think the book “The Meat Fix” by John Nicholson does the best job of explaining this in a historical context; it’s a light, easy read too. One of the better paleo books I’ve read.

  3. Oh, and very little vege seed oil.