Deaths caused by diabetes account for 12 percent of the total number of deaths in the United States, a significantly higher percentage than previously thought. The results of this new research make diabetes the third-leading cause of death in the country, coming after heart disease and cancer.

The research, published in the journal PLOS ONE, was carried out by scientists at the University of Pennsylvania and Boston University.

Type 2 Diabetes: Third Leading Cause Of Death

Only one other similar search effort was carried out, based on data from the 1980s and the 1990s, showing that four percent of the total deaths are caused by diabetes.

"Another way of saying that is, if diabetes were eliminated as a disease process, the number of deaths would decline by 12 percent," noted Samuel Preston, a sociology professor at Penn's School of Arts &.

Andrew Stokes, a demographer at Boston University, published a series of articles concerning the excess mortality rate associated with obesity, with a recent focus on diabetes as one of the main consequences of obesity. The researchers looked into databases that are nationally representative, such as the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and the National Health Interview Survey, which care the two major health surveys in the United States.

There are statistical reasons behind the authors' decision to take these two surveys into consideration, specifically. The National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) was a comprehensive study, with a sample size of more than 282,000 individuals, some of whom self-reported diabetes. While significantly smaller, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) offered complementary information on a crucial indicator of diabetes: the hemoglobin A1c measure.

This indicator shows if a person has diabetes, regardless of that person being aware of the diagnosis or not. The indicator is also important because it incorporates people who were not diagnosed, and who would go as healthy in a self-reported survey.

According to the study, people who suffer from diabetes have 90 percent higher death rates compared to the people who don't have the disease. Additionally, the research shows that diabetes as "underlying cause of death" has been massively underreported, which made the disease weigh less in the overall contributions to mortality across the country.

"We found a high degree of consistency between data sets and definitions of diabetes in the hazard ratios, estimates of diabetes prevalence, and estimates of the proportion of deaths attributable to diabetes. The proportion of deaths attributable to diabetes was estimated to be 11.5% using self-reports in NHIS, 11.7% using self-reports in NHANES, and 11.8% using HbA1c in NHANES," noted the research.

A Dangerous Disease

According to a CDC fact sheet, the number of new cases diagnosed across the United States has begun to drop. However, the numbers are still very high, as more than 29 million people live with diabetes, and 86 million have prediabetes. Among the risk factors, some are very common, such as being overweight, being older than 45, having a family history of the disease or not being physically active.

There are numerous complications that could occur once a person has type 2 diabetes, among which heart disease and stroke, blindness and sight problems, kidney disease or amputations.

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