The CDC released some excellent news on November 2nd, reporting that the rate of death for children with diabetes had dropped dramatically since the 1960’s. In an age when almost all health related news is bad, when we stand on the verge of an obesity pandemic and rising levels of all manner of health related issues, this statistic is a welcome change of pace. Yet even as our diabetic children are living longer, healthier lives, there is reason to look beyond the good news and find a growing source of alarm.
The statistics themselves speak the subtle truth: the death rate for children and teens has dropped an average of 61 percent since the 1960’s…..
This news seems counter intuitive; how have diabetes related deaths dropped even as the rate of diabetes has risen? According to another report prepared by the CDC, the rate of type 2 diabetes has grown amongst our youth by 21 percent from 2001 to 2009, and while type 1 has grown by 23 percent. As of 2010, an estimated 215,000 people in the US had diabetes.
So how are we cutting back on diabetic deaths even as more kids are being diagnosed as diabetic? The answer might lie in the disparity in deaths in different age groups. Advances in our understanding of diabetes, in our medical technology and ability to diagnose and deliver earlier treatment may have caused the drop in deaths in kids under the age of 10. However, this dropping of the death rate in the younger kids was met by a new and troubling statistic: since 1984, the rate of deaths amongst teens has risen by 1.6 percent.
Why? The answer might be that even as our care and treatment of diabetes amongst very young children has improved, we have not yet been able to cure diabetes, resulting in children who might have died young living well into their teens before passing away. That’s why the rate of death overall since the 60’s has only dropped by 52 percent; too many children are simply learning to live with diabetes as they pass into their teenage years, surviving on improved medication, only to pass away when their bodies can no longer handle the disease.
Thus while these new statistics are welcome, they highlight that the answer lies not in treatment, but in prevention. We need to improve awareness, improve our medical understanding of the disease, fight to discover cures, and help children lower their rates of type 2 diabetes by educating them on the value of exercise and healthy diets.