Thursday, August 23, 2007

Media Spin on Diabetes Knows No Bounds

This morning's edition of the Los Angeles Times reports that a survey released by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research found that 7% of California adults were diagnosed with diabetes. The survey also found that in Californians of Asian heritage showed the most surprising increase, swelling from 5% to 6.5%.

Ironically, the California statistics are not dramatically different from the 8% figure that New York City recently reported with much heavy press coverage (see "Diabetes Epidemic Having Devastating Effects In New York City, New Report Shows") in which the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene tried to suggest that the nation's largest city was being disproportionately hit by the so-called diabetes epidemic. Yet as the new California figures suggest, the incidence of diabetes is rising at roughly the same rate nationwide, and that no ethnic groups are being spared.

According to NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Frieden, "The rising cost of treating diabetes is an unsustainable burden on our health system and economy. But even worse, behind these statistics are tragic individual stories that challenge our city and our health system to respond." Cry me a river, Tom. It appears that sunny California is experiencing a comparable rate of growth as New York City.

The UCLA statistics solidify my contention that the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is doing little more than engaging in media spin to suggest that its undisclosed seizure of patients' labwork is somehow justified, which it is not.

As I reported earlier this week, Federal statisticians have turned to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which is a periodic survey of a representative group of Americans that not only asks whether people have been told they have diabetes but that also includes blood tests to find undiagnosed cases. Their surprising conclusion, said Katherine M. Flegal, an author of the paper and an epidemiologist at the National Center for Health Statistics, was that the overall age-adjusted proportion of the population that has diabetes had not really changed from 1988 to 2002, the most recent year for which Federal data are available. Rather, what has changed is that cases of undiagnosed diabetes have dropped sharply.

In the interim, the media spin on diabetes continues to suggest that we have an unprecedented explosion of diabetes cases on our hands, and that public health officials simply cannot respond to the growth. Perhaps its time that reporters start doing their homework instead, and represent the data in an honest, well-thought out manner.

5 comments:

BetterCell said...

This increase in Diabetes reported is being referred to IRD(aka Type to Diabetes) and not the other Disease called T1DM, or Type 1 for short?

Scott said...

I would presume so, but the point is that the growth rate was virtually the same for the 14 years between 1988 and 2002, suggesting that the sudden "epidemic" may be due more to their inability to compute a rate of change than significant growth.

Incidentally, the incidence of T1DM is also growing in the U.S. and abroad, and the rate of increase has grown as well, but somehow that gets lost in these exaggerated reports about the severity of the world's obesity epidemic. The 5-10% estimate figure that gets cited all the time is likely to be at the higher end of the scale, and yet research dollars into "prevention" have actually fallen to a record low level. Am I missing something here?

Anonymous said...

Could it be that the reason the research dollars into "prevention" have fallen to a record low level is that it's simply another case of pharmaceutical companies spending much more money on advertising than research, and their influence over the FDA to control and attack ANYTHING "PREVENTIVE"?

Anonymous said...

Scott,

You post some interesting blogs on diabetes, and I was wondering if you would be interested in working with us, the International Diabetes Federation (IDF).

We are in the midst of our preparations for the first UN-observed World Diabetes Day (www.worlddiabetesday.org) on 14 November this year, and I wanted to ask you if you would like to help us to spread awareness of this worldwide event and the theme we have chosen for it this year - Diabetes in Children and Adolescents.

It is estimated that over 200 children develop type 1 diabetes every day and there's no question that the disease often hits disadvantaged communities the hardest, and that children in the developing world can die because their parents are unable to afford medication. In many countries diabetes is still considered an adult disease and as a result can be diagnosed late with severe consequences, including death. Even after diagnosis many children experience poor control and develop complications early.

This is why one of our key objectives for World Diabetes Day this year is to double the number of children covered by the Life for a Child Program - http://www.worlddiabetesday.org/go/wdd-2007/life-for-a-child. We also want to encourage initiatives that can help to reduce diabetic ketoacidosis (diabetic coma) and to promote the sort of healthy lifestyles which can prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes in children.

A version of the diabetes circle, the icon we used for our Unite for Diabetes campaign http://www.unitefordiabetes.org/ has now been adopted for World Diabetes Day and we have produced a number of web banners that you can view and download here http://banners.worlddiabetesday.org

The way in which you can help us spread awareness of World Diabetes Day is to add one of the banners to your own blog, which we would really appreciate.

The UN's World Diabetes Day Resolution (61/225) was really just the first goal of an ambitious campaign that we have been leading. This is the first time a non-communicable disease has been recognised as a serious threat to global public health and we are hoping now to further raise awareness globally of the disease that is predicted to contribute to 6% of the world’s mortality in 2007.

If you would like to know more about the UN Resolution and our plans for World Diabetes Day this year, just drop me a line and I will get back to you with more information.

Thanks,
Stephanie Tanner
IDF - Communications Assistant

Anonymous said...

Scott,

Thank you for posting the World Diabetes Day banner. We here at IDF could not be more appreciative of your support.

Also, here's a news update as we are 56 days from World Diabetes Day, in case you are interested:
*A Monumental Challenge – Global monuments to light up in blue
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This year we are asking every city, town and village to acknowledge World diabetes Day and recognize diabetes as “a chronic, debilitating and costly disease associated with severe complications, which poses severe risks for families.”

We need monuments of local and national importance – from the village hall to the tallest tower – to light up in the color blue of the UN flag (Pantone 279 or as near as possible).

Among the monuments involved, we can count the Empire State Building in New York, the Citadel and Library in Alexandria, the Blue Mosque in Turkey and the London Eye. An up-to-date list of the buildings that have thus far agreed or declined to join the celebrations can be found on the World Diabetes Day website.

We need your help in adding monuments to the list. Let us know the monuments you are pursuing and those that have declined.

http://www.worlddiabetesday.org/bluemonuments

Thanks for all you have already done,
Stephanie Tanner
IDF - Communications Assistant