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Study: If you live in California, there’s a high chance you’re pre-diabetic - what to know

A new UCLA study finds the majority of California adults either have diabetes or are pre-diabetic.
A new UCLA study finds the majority of California adults either have diabetes or are pre-diabetic.

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A new UCLA study finds the majority of California adults either have diabetes or are pre-diabetic. Just as concerning is the finding that a third of young adults are pre-diabetic.

The number with full-blown diabetes has gone up more than a third in just the past decade. The large numbers with pre-diabetes is a big concern, as 70 percent of them are expected to get diabetes in their lifetimes.  

The local figures are far higher than national rates and much of the difference is attributed to California’s large percentage of Latinos.  In previous years, experts estimated that 33 percent of Californians were pre-diabetic, but the recent study has determined that the estimate is much closer to 46 percent.

The most alarming part is that 9 percent of Californians have already been diagnosed with diabetes, bringing the total of diabetics and pre-diabetics in the state to 55 percent. It is nearly impossible to know whether you are pre-diabetic because there are virtually no symptoms, but some professionals like Harold Goldstein, head of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, blame sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy eating habits for the rise in pre-diabetes.

Is exercise and a healthy diet the only way to prevent the disease? Will massive Medi-Cal expansion help? What are some of the most effective ways to reverse diabetes?

Interview Highlights

Could [these new findings] be the result of better diagnosis?

There could be some changes due to better diagnosis, but I don’t think that fully explains the increases either.

Do you see regional differences within the state, and if so, what seem to be co-factors with the higher rates of diabetes or pre-diabetes?

Yeah, we do see considerable variation from county to county and it does seem to be related to demographic factors like age and race, but also to obesity rates.

Do you think the massive Medi-Cal expansion will have a positive effect on these numbers going forward?

That would be our hope. It would be great to have more people have access to effective diabetes prevention programs among those who are at risk of developing diabetes.

Do people who are pre-diabetic typically take medication?

There is medication that’s been shown to be effective in preventing the progression from pre-diabetes to diabetes, but it’s actually not as effective as the lifestyle modifications.

You mentioned that you see demographic tracking based on the counties with the higher rates. Is this largely income driven and what are we seeing for higher income Californians? Are their rates of diabetes changing at all?

We’re not able to look in these pre-diabetes rates at trends over time because we don’t have previous numbers by county, or broken out by demographics. But we do know that diabetes rates are considerably higher among lower income Californians; however, over time, they’ve been going up among all income groups.

What’s some of the latest science on the types of diets that are most effective? Are carbohydrates now considered far more significant for the person with diabetes?

In general, it is recommended to limit consumption of simple carbohydrates, complex carbohydrates have other benefits. In particular, consumption of sugar is problematic and there’s evidence showing unique pathways where sugar increases your risk for diabetes.

Note: This comments have been edited for clarity.

This story has been updated.

If listeners are interested in hearing Sue speak more about the study, they can tune in for the free noon webinar! Details here.

UCLA Prediabetes Brief



Susan Babey, PhD, lead researcher on the paper and co-director of the Chronic Disease Program at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research