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Here Comes the Tsunami

Tsunami waves

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. Mark Twain often gets credit for that statement although it most likely originated in England in the late 1800s. Regardless, the takeaway is simple, statistics can often be manipulated to support or detract from just about any position or argument.

A major exception to that would be diabetes. It’s impossible to ignore how quickly the numbers are climbing.

February is always American Heart month. Each and every year, right around Valentine’s Day, we are inundated with all sorts of stats regarding heart disease:

*It kills more Americans than any other disease.
* 750,000 Americans will have a heart attack this year.
* 70% of heart disease is preventable.

These numbers are all true but they also are old news. Deaths from heart disease have fallen dramatically over the past 50 years in the United States. What we really need to be paying attention to is the rate of how quickly diabetes is exploding!


When someone passes away the official death certificate has to include the “cause of death.” The problem is it’s rare that someone dies from just one thing. What if an individual is obese, physically inactive, smokes, has heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, some type of cancer and they then suffer a fatal stroke? What should the attending physician list as the “cause of death”? That’s a good question since there obviously were multiple factors at play.

From 1997 to 2011, for adults 30-84, only 3.3% of death certificates listed diabetes as the underlying cause of death. A study, published January 25, 2017 in PLOS ONE, indicates that number should be closer to 12% which would move diabetes from the 7th leading cause of death to 3rd (behind heart disease and malignant neoplasms (i.e. cancer)).

Now you may be thinking “meh!” but…let’s look downfield. Well over 90% of diabetes is classified as “Type 2” which is primarily a function of obesity and physical inactivity…in other words, it’s preventable. The prevalence of diabetes in the United States has tripled from 1976-1980 until now. Of greater importance, it’s now predicted that for American’s born after the year 2000 at least 40% will develop diabetes at some point in their life (up from the current 12.3% of adults 20 and older). Yes, you read that right: 40%!

If that does not have your attention then consider the economic cost! The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a paper in December, 2016 that shows the cost of diabetes is clearly at the top of the list of most costly health expenses…over 101 billion dollars a year!
More importantly, the cost of diabetes is growing 36 times faster than the number two condition which is ischemic heart disease:


What does all this mean? Well, as my dad used to say: We’re in deep yogurt!

From a health perspective where we’ve been is interesting, where we are is important, but where we’re going is frightening. Although we can outsource many things in our lives, including our laundry, our meals, and our lawn care, we simply cannot outsource our health. Individually and collectively we must recognize most of diabetes is preventable and if we don’t correct course soon then no one is going to have a checkbook big enough to pay for what’s coming.

Stay well.