WASHINGTON D.C.: In 2021, more than 100,000 Americans died from diabetes, the second consecutive year this figure was met, and resulting in a call for federal mobilization, similar to the campaign against HIV/AIDS.
A report released earlier this month called for far broader policy changes to counter the diabetes epidemic, such as promoting the consumption of healthier foods.
In 2019, diabetes was the seventh-leading cause of death in the U.S. and killed more than 87,000, highlighting a long-term failure to address the illness and leaving many more vulnerable at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The large number of diabetes deaths, for the second year in a row, is certainly a cause for alarm. Type 2 diabetes is relatively preventable,” said Dr. Paul Hsu, epidemiologist at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health, as quoted by Reuters.
In a new report, the National Clinical Care Commission created by Congress said the U.S. must adopt a more comprehensive approach to prevent more people from developing type 2 diabetes, the most common form, and help those already diagnosed avoid life-threatening complications.
According to the commission, some 37 million Americans, or 11 percent of the population, have diabetes, and one in three Americans will develop diabetes in their lifetimes.
In its January 5 report to Congress and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the commission wrote, “Diabetes in the U.S. cannot simply be viewed as a medical or health care problem, but also must be addressed as a societal problem that cuts across many sectors.”
The federal panel recommended Congress create an Office of National Diabetes Policy, which will coordinate government efforts and oversee changes outside health policy.
According to Dr. William Herman, commission chairman and professor of internal medicine and epidemiology at the University of Michigan, the agency would be separate from HHS and could be fashioned after the White House Office of National AIDS Policy.
“We are not going to cure the problem of diabetes in the U.S. with medical interventions. The idea is to pull something together across federal agencies,” Herman told Reuters.
U.S. Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington who chairs the Senate health committee, helped create the commission in 2017 and said she is studying the recommendations closely.
In a statement to Reuters, she noted, “People with diabetes and other chronic illnesses were already facing challenges well before the pandemic hit, and COVID-19 has only made these problems worse.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has proven especially deadly for people with diabetes, who have at least a two-fold greater risk of death, according to the report. In addition, diabetes and its complications are more common in low-income Americans and people of color, longstanding disparities that were further exposed by the pandemic.
Dr. Shari Bolen, commission member and associate professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University and the MetroHealth System in Cleveland, said the number of diabetes deaths is “disheartening but also a call to action.”
High costs for doctor’s visits, medicines and supplies force many diabetes patients to forgo or delay treatment, and many patients and lawmakers have expressed outrage at the rising price of insulin.
The commission said the U.S. should encourage the purchase of more fruits and vegetables under food assistance programs. The panel also recommended imposing taxes on sugar drinks and use the revenue to expand access to clean drinking water and fund related programs.