Diabetes screenings for overweight adults should start at 35, new guidelines say

WASHINGTON — A federal medical panel recommended on Tuesday that overweight U.S. adults should now be screened for Type 2 diabetes and precursors of the disease beginning at age 35, multiple media outlets reported.

The new guidance, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, lowers the recommended screening age by five years in a bid to minimize serious health complications from developing, The Wall Street Journal reported.

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According to one estimate, the new recommendation means that more than 40% of the adult population should now be screened, excluding pregnant women, The New York Times reported.

A person is classified as overweight when their weight is out of proportion to their height, leading to a body mass index of 25 or higher. People with a BMI of 30 or higher are considered obese, and those with a BMI of 40 or higher or considered severely obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A healthy diet and regular physical activity can help people achieve and maintain a healthy weight, but unchecked obesity is a known contributor to Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers, the CDC stated.

Meanwhile, the agency estimated that one in three U.S. adults struggles with obesity and that the nation spends $147 billion annually on obesity-related health care.

According to the Times, the new guidance was issued by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which makes recommendations for preventive services and screenings that insurance companies must cover completely and that the Affordable Care Act dictates must not generate any out-of-pocket costs to the insured.

In addition to heart disease and liver disease, diabetes - which currently affects one in seven American adults - is the leading cause of kidney failure and new blindness in adults and can result in limb amputation, nerve damage and other complications, the newspaper reported.

People with diabetes are also at greater risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract COVID-19, the Journal reported.

The task force also recommended health care providers consider screening people with a family history of diabetes or a personal history of conditions like gestational diabetes, and people who are Black, Hispanic, Native American, Alaska Native or Asian American even earlier because those factors represent a heightened risk of developing the disease, the Times reported.

According to the CDC, an estimated 13% of all U.S. adults have diabetes, while 34.5% have prediabetes, where blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not enough for a diabetes diagnosis, the Journal reported.

“We know that you’re at a much higher risk of developing diabetes with age, but younger and younger people are developing the disease,” Marie McDonnell, an endocrinologist and the director of the clinical diabetes program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, who did not participate in the federal panel, told the Journal.

“If you can identify people at risk at younger ages, you can reduce the time that an individual spends in a diabetes-range blood sugar if you act on it,” she added.