UnitedHealth report: Chronic conditions like depression, diabetes are on the rise

Chronic conditions, including mental health needs, are on the rise, according to a new report.

The United Health Foundation, the philanthropic arm of industry giant UnitedHealth Group, released its annual America's Health Rankings report, which tracks health across the country based on 87 measures and 28 data sources. It found that multiple chronic conditions have reached their highest levels since they were first tracked in the report.

Between 2021 and 2022, for example, depression rates grew to 21.7%, impacting close to 54.2 million people. Similarly, the prevelance of diabetes rose to 11.5%, or 31.9 million adults.

"The findings of this report underscore the urgent need to confront the nation’s broad and diversifying health challenges—especially the high and rising prevalence of chronic conditions—through policies and actions that tackle disparities and help communities across the nation improve their health and well-being," the authors wrote.

Some of the disparities identified in the study include that chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder rates were 7.1 times higher in the American Indian and Pacific Islander population compared to Asian adults. White adults had a cancer rate 3.9 times higher than Asian adults, the study found.

Emergency room visits caused by asthma were 2.5 higher among Black adults compared to white adults, the study found. Diabetic Black and Hispanic adults were also less likely than white adults to have their A1c levels under control.

Depression rates were 2.4 times higher among LGBTQ+ people compared to straight people, according to the report.

"A collaborative, data-driven approach is the only way we’re going to create substantial change in improving chronic disease outcomes and reducing health disparities," Roxana Cruz, M.D., director of medical and clinical affairs for the Texas Association of Community Health Centers, said in the report.

In addition to the significant disparities identified in the study, the researchers found that the number of people managing multiple chronic needs at once is growing. As of 2022, 11.2% of adults said they have three or more of the chronic conditions tracked in the report.

That's 29.3 million adults with at least three major chronic needs, according to the study. The disparities found in individual conditions extended to this trend; For instance, American Indiana/Pacific Islanders were 5.2 times more likely than Asian adults to have multiple chronic needs.

"These adults with multiple chronic conditions face a large burden in terms of costs, complexity of care and limitations on daily life, and a substantial portion of health care spending nationwide goes toward managing multiple chronic conditions, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality," the researchers wrote.