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SEATTLE – There is a three-fold difference between the “best” and “worst” counties in the United States regarding prevalence of diabetes, and as Americans begin planning their menus for Labor Day celebrations, one must ask: Are those fatty foods and sugar-infused drinks worth the health risk?

A new scientific paper calls the difference between the counties “staggering,” and notes that public health systems – on local and statewide levels – have important roles to play in increasing awareness of and screening for diabetes.

“The results of this analysis should be considered by state and local health officials aiming to increase early detection and improve the health of people in impacted communities,” said Laura Dwyer-Lindgren, the paper’s lead author and a researcher with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.

The paper, published today in the American Diabetes Association Journal Diabetes Care, covers the years 1999–2012. It covers only through 2012 because this is the most recent year for which data were publicly available at the county level.

Diagnosed diabetes prevalence is highest among counties in the deep South (excluding Florida), near the Texas-Mexico border, and in counties with Native American reservations in the four corners region of the Southwest, and in North and South Dakota. In contrast, the lowest prevalence is in counties in the upper West and Midwest, parts of Alaska, and parts of New England.

Similarly, undiagnosed diabetes prevalence tends to be high among counties in the deep South, but also among counties in the Southwest and Alaska, whereas counties in New England and the upper West and Midwest have lower undiagnosed diabetes prevalence.

In regard to total diabetes prevalence, both diagnosed and undiagnosed, the results show “significant variation within the US and within states.” For example, Los Alamos County in New Mexico, with 8.8% of its residents affected, ranked number one for the lowest rate in the nation; Starr County in Texas had the highest rate in the nation, with 25.1%.

Interestingly, seven of the top 10 counties with the lowest rates were in Colorado.

“Some of this variation can be accounted for by socioeconomic and demographic factors,” said Dwyer-Lindgren. “However, our estimates of diagnosed diabetes, which are based on data directly observed at the county level, suggest that there is more variation in diabetes prevalence among counties than can be explained by those factors alone. Given the significant health and financial burden of high diabetes prevalence, this disparity demands further investigation into what underlying – and potentially modifiable – factors drive the exceedingly high diagnosed and total diabetes rates found in many communities.”

There are two primary types of diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults; only 5% of people with diabetes have this form of the disease, in which one’s body does not produce insulin. With the help of insulin therapy and other treatments, the condition can be managed.

Type 2 diabetes results when one’s sugar levels rise higher than normal, and one’s body does not use insulin properly. At first, the pancreas makes extra insulin to make up for it, but over time cannot make enough insulin to keep blood glucose at normal levels. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes.

Understanding and managing one’s risk can help prevent diabetes and heart disease and enable individuals to live longer, better lives. Among the risk factors are:

  • Overweight and above-normal body weight (body mass index of 25 to 29.9)
  • High blood glucose
  • History of diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes)
  • High blood pressure 
  • Unhealthy cholesterol
  • Physical inactivity
  • Smoking
  • Unhealthy eating
  • Age, race, gender, and family history

An online test to assess one’s potential risk is available at American Diabetes Association website: www.diabetes.org.

Media contacts:

Kayla Albrecht, MPH, +1-206-897-3792 (office); +1-203-335-2669 (cell); [email protected]

Dean R. Owen, +1-206-897-2858 (office); +1-206-434-5630 (cell); [email protected]

 

Here are the top and bottom 10 counties for total diabetes prevalence for both sexes combined in 2012:

FIPS

State

County

Rank

Prevalence (mean estimate)

Prevalence (lower bound)

Prevalence (upper bound)

35028

New Mexico

Los Alamos County

1

8.8

7.4

10.2

8035

Colorado

Douglas County

2

8.9

7.7

10.0

8053

Colorado

Hinsdale County

3

8.9

7.7

10.0

8097

Colorado

Pitkin County

4

8.9

7.7

10.0

8091

Colorado

Ouray County

5

8.9

7.6

10.2

8107

Colorado

Routt County

6

9.1

8.0

10.2

49043

Utah

Summit County

7

9.2

8.2

10.2

56039

Wyoming

Teton County

8

9.2

8.1

10.4

8117

Colorado

Summit County

9

9.3

8.0

10.5

8079

Colorado

Mineral County

10

9.4

7.9

10.8

1063

Alabama

Greene County

3133

23.7

20.7

26.7

48047

Texas

Brooks County

3134

23.8

20.6

27.0

48507

Texas

Zavala County

3135

23.8

20.5

27.1

13259

Georgia

Stewart County

3136

23.8

20.9

26.7

28063

Mississippi

Jefferson County

3137

23.9

21.1

26.6

48479

Texas

Webb County

3138

24.3

21.2

27.3

1119

Alabama

Sumter County

3139

24.3

21.7

27.0

28051

Mississippi

Holmes County

3140

24.8

22.0

27.6

46102

South Dakota

Oglala Lakota County

3141

25.1

21.3

28.9

48427

Texas

Starr County

3142

26.4

22.5

30.3