Critics fear CDC’s prediabetes awareness campaign will lead to overdiagnosis

A controversy is brewing over the pros and cons of diagnosing prediabetes, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Some doctors say a public-awareness campaign aimed at screening people for prediabetes could result in overdiagnosis of the condition and create needless fears in patients. 

Experts in favor of diagnosing patients with prediabetes say between 15 percent and 30 percent of those with prediabetes--people with a blood glucose of 5.7 percent to 6.4 percent on an A1C test--will develop Type 2 diabetes within five years. That’s the perspective of the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which are partnering on the campaign to raise awareness about prediabetes.

“Our major message is to use this as a warning, not to frighten people,” Ann Albright, Ph.D., director of the CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation, told the Wall Street Journal about the government agency’s campaign. “It’s just not an option to stand by and watch millions of people march to diabetes.”

The potential scope of the problem is large. More than 1 in 3 adults in the United States have prediabetes--and most don’t know it, according to the CDC.

The number one reason to diagnose people with prediabetes is it captures their attention and makes them take a hard look at their lifestyle choices, Robert Ratner, M.D., chief scientific and medical officer at the ADA, told the newspaper. There’s really no downside to getting patients to focus more on their lifestyle choices, he added.

On the other side of the debate are experts who say that only a small percentage of people with prediabetes will progress to diabetes. And the downside there is significant, Victor Montori, M.D., an endocrinologist who specializes in diabetes at the Mayo Clinic, told the newspaper.

Overdiagnosing patients will translate to more tests, more appointments, more patients--and people potentially taking medications that aren’t needed, according to Montori. Studies show only about 5 percent of those with A1C levels of 5.7 percent or 5.8 percent will progress to Type 2 diabetes within five years and beyond, Montori says.

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