Diabetes more deadly than previously thought, researchers say

Diabetes causes 12 percent of deaths in the United States, making it the third-leading cause of death in the country, according to a new study published in PLOS ONE.

According to the CDC, diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S., causing about 4 percent of deaths. But researchers from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and Boston University contend official records are not accurately counting diabetes-attributable deaths.

Researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and the National Health Interview Survey to determine the fraction of deaths in the U.S. attributable to diabetes. Data were from between 1997 and 2009 and 1999 and 2010, respectively.

They found people with diabetes have about 90 percent higher death rates than people without. Additionally, diabetes as the underlying cause of death was underreported, they found. This could be because people with diabetes often have other complications, like heart or kidney disease, making it difficult to pin down an exact cause of death for the death certificate.

"There is only one underlying cause of death on a death certificate," said Samuel Preston, PhD, a professor at Penn and part of its Population Studies Center. "Diabetes is not listed as frequently as it is involved in the death of individuals."

For comparison, the top two causes of death in the U.S. — heart disease and cancer — account for roughly 23 percent and 22 percent of deaths, respectively. The next leading cause of death according to the CDC, chronic lower respiratory disease, accounts for about 5 percent of deaths.

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