As the founder and co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Diabetes Caucus, I have learned a great deal about this devastating disease. Nearly 26 million Americans, both adults and children, have diabetes. Another 79 million Americans have pre-diabetes and are at risk of developing the disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that, if current trends continue, one in three adults will have diabetes by 2050.
Diabetes is one of our most costly diseases in both human and economic terms. It costs our nation more than annually—a staggering 41 percent increase from 2007—and accounts for one out of three Medicare dollars. The disease is the leading cause of kidney failure, blindness in adults, and amputations not related to injury. It's a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, and is among the top ten causes of death in the United States. Because of the serious complications associated with the disease, Americans with diabetes face medical expenses that are 2.3 times higher than those incurred by individuals without the disease.
Most people are familiar with Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease that is usually diagnosed in patients under age 20, and Type 2 diabetes, which is associated with older age, obesity, and physical inactivity. While the rates of Type 1 diabetes are rising, Type 2 diabetes has become a health problem of epidemic proportions that is particularly hard on women—especially African-American women. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one in four African-American women has diabetes.
There is, however, another type of diabetes that significantly affects the health of our nation's women and children that people know relatively little about: gestational diabetes. This is crucial for the readers of Women's Health to know. Up to 18 percent of all pregnancies in the United States are affected by gestational diabetes, and the number is growing steadily. It's associated with health problems for both mother and baby during pregnancy and childbirth, and almost half of women with gestational diabetes will go on to develop Type 2 diabetes later in life. The disease also puts children at a higher risk for obesity and developing diabetes themselves.
While the impact of the disease is significant, there is no consensus on what causes gestational diabetes, how best to treat it, or the effectiveness of current treatments. A recent study found that only 68 percent of all pregnant women were screened for gestational diabetes, and only 19 percent of those diagnosed received the appropriate follow-up postpartum test.
Along with Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), I have introduced the Gestational Diabetes Act, which aims to lower the incidence of the disease to prevent women and their children from developing Type 2 diabetes later in life. The legislation bolsters research on gestational diabetes by giving the Secretary of Health and Human Services the authority to expand and enhance monitoring of the disease and to further test evidence-based interventions. It also requires the CDC to work with doctors and other health care providers to make sure that women who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes receive proper follow up care.
Diabetes is a life-long condition that does not discriminate. It affects people of every age, race, and nationality. Thankfully, there is good news for people with the disease. Since I founded the Senate Diabetes Caucus, funding for research on the disease has more than tripled, from $319 million in 1997 to well over a billion dollars this year. As a consequence, we've seen some encouraging breakthroughs in diabetes research, and we are on the threshold of a number of important new discoveries.
While we are making progress in the battle against diabetes, this is not the time to take our foot off the accelerator. We must continue to pursue an aggressive national strategy to find better treatments, a means of prevention, and ultimately a cure for this terrible disease. The readers ofWomen's Health can help by urging their senators and representatives to support the Gestational Diabetes Act—and by making sure that if they get pregnant, they take charge of their health and get screened for the disease.
Senator Susan Collins, first elected as U.S. Senator to Maine in 1996, is serving her third term and is a longtime advocate for healthcare. Her accomplishments range from the repeal of tax break for the tobacco industry to laws to make us safer from terrorism. Along with former Senator Joe Lieberman, she led the successful repeal of the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law that prohibited gay and lesbian Americans from serving openly in the military. Senator Collins is currently a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence and also serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee.