Study: Young adults with diabetes struggle with high blood sugar more often

Insulin pump settings
A young patient and her father check the settings on her insulin pump during an appointment at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview in Minneapolis.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News 2011

Updated: Nov. 28 | Posted: Nov. 27

New research from the Minnesota Department of Health finds that younger adults with diabetes are more likely to have high blood sugar levels and end up in the hospital than older adults with the disease.

Diabetes commonly affects older adults. But this study looked at Minnesotans age 18 to 44 living with the disease.

It found that only four out of 10 younger adults on average met their blood sugar targets, compared to nearly 8 in 10 older adults with diabetes. And adults under 45 were hospitalized due to out-of-control blood sugar levels three to five times more often.

The statistics are sobering for state health officials, who say data on younger adults often get lost in studies because they make up such a small portion — about one in 10 — of adults with diabetes.

"There was a distinct pattern among the younger adults that honestly gets washed away when we look at all the data in aggregate," said Renee Kidney, epidemiologist with the state Health Department.

The findings raise concern about the long-term health of younger diabetics. Having consistently high blood sugar levels can cause health problems ranging from kidney and eye damage to infertility, Kidney said.

The study included both people with Type 1 diabetes, whose bodies don't produce insulin and are often diagnosed in childhood, and people with Type 2 diabetes, whose bodies are resistant to insulin or don't use it as well as they should. It found both types struggled to meet their target blood sugar levels, although the rates were slightly different.

The study found that compared to older adults, 18- to 44-year-olds with diabetes were less likely to have had their blood sugar levels checked in the last year, and to have a doctor to help manage their disease. They also had higher rates of depression and were more likely to be hospitalized for mental health conditions.

The study didn't determine the reasons behind the numbers. Kidney says more research is needed on whether not having continuous insurance coverage, high health care costs or other factors might be keeping younger adults with diabetes from seeking care.

In a news release, Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the findings show the state needs to tailor its care and outreach to address the needs of younger adults with diabetes.

Kidney said she hopes the study will help spur a broader conversation among health care providers, patients and their families about how to better manage the disease.

"These younger adults who are living with diabetes have their whole lives ahead of them, and we want them to be able to live them in good health," she said.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.