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"Diabetes Belt" Carves a Swath through U.S. South

More than 18 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with diabetes, which costs an estimated $174 billion annually. Typically, local public health agencies carry out the initiatives to manage and prevent this chronic disease, but because prevalence figures are generally given on national and state levels, local workers cannot gain the traction—and funding—to rein in rates in their areas. 

A new study drills down to the county level, revealing wide disparities within states and striking national patterns. "We're extremely excited about the county level," says Lawrence Barker, associate director for science at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Division of Diabetes Translation.

Many of the counties with the highest rates of diagnosed diabetes—higher than 11.2 percent of the population compared with the national average of 8.5 percent—are concentrated in 15 states and form an area the study's authors have labeled the "diabetes belt" (after the so-called "stroke belt" that described U.S. Southeast in the 1960s).

"We've known for many years that there was a lot of diabetes in the Southeast," Barker says. But the new analysis, based on data from the self-reported national phone survey called the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), confirmed that the disease has a distinctive geographical distribution. The map and findings will be published in the April 2011 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Read more at scientificamerican.com

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