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Guideline Change Means 40 Percent of Adults Now Need Diabetes Testing

Here's what to know about new diabetes testing recommendations.

The United States Preventive Services Task Force has come out with a new recommendation that overweight Americans 35-and-older should seek screening for type 2 diabetes.

The recommendation is significant for two reasons: One, the recommended age is now five years earlier than it was before, moving screening dates up from 40-year-old adults to 35-year-old ones; and two, it means that some 40 percent of the population of adults qualify for being screened for diabetes. 

Diabetes is a pre-existing condition that has been deadly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Having diabetes worsens illness after contracting COVID-19 and increases the risk of hospitalization and death. And that pre-existing condition is not felt equally: Non-white Americans are far more likely than white Americans to have diabetes.

The task force also said that people should be screened every three years until they turn 70. Dr. Tannaz Moin, who co-wrote an editorial about the USPSTF’s recommendations, said that about a third of people now eligible for screening will likely meet the criteria to go on a diabetes prevention program, which isn’t a bad thing at all.

“In theory, strong implementation [of prevention tactics could contribute to significant health benefits, ranging from a reduced incidence of diabetes to a reduction in diabetes-related complications.” 

The moved-up recommendation comes at a time when diabetes rates are growing in all populations in the United States, from children to grown adults. One in seven American adults has diabetes and a new study published in JAMA Network has found that the prevalence of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes increased in kids and teens between the years of 2001 to 2017, with teenagers seeing the highest increase of diabetes prevalence. 

In fact, in the editorial, Moin and her co-author note that almost a quarter of young adults between the ages of 18 to 44 have pre-diabetes, but only 44 percent of people in that age group reported being tested in the past three years, and are therefore less likely to get preventative services. Hopefully, moving the recommended testing age to 35 will help, but it won’t help the growing number of teens who are being diagnosed with the disease who could benefit the most from early and aggressive intervention.

That’s a problem, as diabetes is not just an issue of a medical condition. It’s long been associated with experiencing other adverse health outcomes or social outcomes, including housing insecurity, food insecurity, struggles affording medication, and more. Young people would be “the most likely to benefit from early prevention,” the editorial says. And while prevention can be cheap, it’s not accessible for everyone, and treatment like insulin is very much not cheap in the United States

While diabetes is treatable, and pre-diabetes is ultra-treatable, it’s no fun to have. Healthy diet, exercise, weight loss, and the use of metformin for pre-diabetic people can help lessen the risk of diabetes; insulin helps treat it.