Diabetes Screening Age Lowered to 35 for Overweight, Obese Americans

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released a new advisory Tuesday urging overweight and obese Americans to begin screening for diabetes at age 35 instead of the previously advised 40, the Associated Press reported.

Increasing rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes in Americans were the impetus for the new guidance from the task force, which serves as an advisory group to the U.S. government. According to the group's research, three in four U.S. adults are overweight or obese, raising the risk of developing diabetes.

The task force said in the guidance that among adults age 18 and older, 14 percent already have been diagnosed with diabetes and 33 percent are prediabetic. The advisory recommends screening for all overweight and obese adults up to age 70.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Diabetes Screening Advisory
Overweight or obese Americans should start getting screened for diabetes and prediabetes earlier, at age 35 instead of 40, according to national guidelines updated on August 24, 2021. John Locher/AP Photo

The guidance was published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). It updates the task force's 2015 recommendations, and says even earlier screening should be considered for overweight or obese American Indians, Black people, Hispanics and other groups with disproportionately high diabetes rates.

The American Diabetes Association says overweight or obese adults of any age should be screened.

Screening means blood tests to measure sugar levels and sometimes involves drinking a sugary liquid first. The new guidance suggests that people whose tests are normal could be screened every three years.

Type 2 diabetes impairs the body's ability to use insulin to regulate blood sugar, leading to high levels that can cause heart problems, organ damage and blindness. Prediabetes means higher than normal blood sugar levels that can lead to full-blown diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes incidence has increased in recent years along with obesity rates. A 2001-17 report in the same journal shows the rate nearly doubled in ages 10 to 19, jumping from 34 cases per 100,000 kids to 67 per 100,000.

The task force's guidance says evidence shows diet and physical activity can prevent or delay diabetes in adults with prediabetes. The diabetes drug metformin has been shown to do the same but has not been approved for that use, the task force notes. The drug is not risk-free and some doctors oppose using it that way, noting that two-thirds of people with prediabetes never develop the disease.

A JAMA editorial says evidence shows that few U.S. adults with prediabetes are referred to diabetes prevention or weight loss programs that could help them avoid diabetes and its complications. It calls for a broader range of effective prevention programs that are covered by insurance and accessible to people who need them most.