For the past few years, the news about Americans and diabetes has mostly bleak. There are 26 million people who have the condition, and almost three times that many have prediabetes, a condition that typically is a marker for the development of diabetes. Rising obesity rates mean that young people—even children—have been diagnosed more and more. But a recent study offers a small sliver of hope amid all this bad news. Despite rising rates of diagnosis across all population groups, researchers have found that more people than ever are managing and controlling the condition, offering hope for their increased wellbeing and longevity.

People with diabetes need to keep on top of three important health measures: A1C, the measure of blood glucose control over previous three months; blood pressure, and cholesterol. Experts recommend that people with diabetes aim for A1C levels of 7 or below, blood pressure readings of 130/80 or below, and LDL cholesterol levels of 100 or below and HDL levels of 40 or above.

A recent study that examined data collected on diabetes patients from 1988 through 1994 and from 1999 through 2010 found that patients seen 19 to 25 years ago were much less adept at managing their health, with only 2 percent of them meeting or exceeding all three measures of diabetes control. By contrast, 19 percent of patients seen in more recent years met or exceeded healthful measures of A1C, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Even patients who weren't able to meet all three measures showed improvements in individual measures.

Other findings from the study, funded and carried out by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention include:

  • 53 percent of recent patients had good A1C readings versus only 43 percent of those seen from 1999 through 1994.
  • Slightly more than half had healthy blood pressure versus one-third in earlier years.
  • 56 percent had optimal cholesterol levels while only 10 percent did years before.

While diet and exercise are typically prescribed for diabetes management, some of the study's good results can be attributed to a rise in medication taken to control diabetes. For example, statin drugs have been widely prescribed in recent years and are largely responsible for the improvement in cholesterol numbers.

The researchers caution that while the news overall is positive, there are still many areas for improvement. Of particular concern is that certain ethnic groups that traditionally have higher rates of diabetes (Mexican-Americans and African-Americans), also have more trouble managing the condition. And younger people are faring more poorly than their older counterparts in keeping their numbers down, which is especially troubling to scientists because controlling the disease early is a major factor in avoiding complications down the line.

Alison Massey, MS, RD, LDN, CDE, reviewed this article.



National Institutes of Health. "NIH Study Shows Big Improvement in Diabetes Control Over Past Decades." Web.

National Diabetes Education Program. "Step 2: Know Your Diabetes ABCs. (AiC, Blood Pressure, and Cholesterol). Web.