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Issue 95 Item 15 Few Diabetics Understand Link to Cardiovascular Disease, Stroke

Mar 13, 2002

A survey released Tuesday shows that very few diabetics understand they have a very high risk for stroke and heart disease. The glaring lack of knowledge could result in many preventable deaths, said Tommy Thompson, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Thompson and officials from the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American Diabetes Association (ADA) presented the survey results at a press briefing at HHS, and called on the media, physicians, and the public to do more to increase awareness that diabetics are much more likely to develop cardiovascular disease.

Thompson said that getting more diabetics to understand their risk for heart disease and stroke “is very personal to me because my father had diabetes, was overweight and died of a heart attack at an early age.”


In the survey of 2,008 people with diabetes, 68% said they do not consider cardiovascular disease to be a serious complication of diabetes. In reality, two thirds of deaths in people with diabetes are due to cardiovascular disease, said Christopher Saudek, president of the ADA, which commissioned the survey in partnership with the ACC.

Awareness of the link was lowest among the elderly and Hispanics, two groups at higher risk for diabetes. Also, 60% of those surveyed said they did not feel that they were at high risk for high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol. Saudek said that, ironically, as many of 60% of diabetics have hypertension, and almost all have one or more cholesterol abnormality.

“There is a serious knowledge gap between the facts and the perceptions in diabetes,” said Saudek.

He and Thompson said they were alarmed at the survey results, because the prevalence of diabetes is increasing. “More people with diabetes are dying of cardiovascular disease than ever before,” he said.

Thompson said he intended to use his “bully pulpit,” to encourage more Americans to watch their weight and exercise more, and added that he would encourage employers to do the same.

“I want the Department to go on a diet,” said Thompson, noting that he was making the request since he was already dieting, but added, “I’m not having as much luck as I’d like.”

Thompson said he would also be promoting the “ABCs of Diabetes” campaign developed by HHS’ National Diabetes Education Program. Under that plan, diabetics are urged to track and monitor their hemoglobin A1C levels, their blood pressure, and their cholesterol.

The ACC and ADA are also promoting a campaign called Make the Link to educate diabetics on decreasing their cardiovascular disease risks, and to provide information to physicians. The information can be found at www.diabetes.org/makethelink.