June 9 (UPI) -- The percentage of adults with diabetes in the United States who are effectively controlling their blood sugar levels dropped to fewer than 51% in 2018 from just over 57% in 2010, an analysis published Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine found.
Researchers analyzed roughly 20 years of data, finding that overall good management of diabetes has slipped among people with the condition over the course of the last several years.
The percentage of adults with diabetes with healthy blood pressure levels -- the two conditions are often linked -- dropped to 70% in 2018 from 74% 2014 after seven years of increases, the data showed.
Another linked condition, high cholesterol, was found in 56% of adults with diabetes in 2018, up from 52% in 2010, according to the researchers.
The percentage of adults who had control over all three fell to 22% in 2018 from 25% 10 years earlier, they said.
"These are concerning findings," study co-author Elizabeth Selvin, a professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, said in a press release.
"There has been a real decline in [blood sugar] control from a decade ago, and overall, only a small proportion of people with diabetes are simultaneously meeting the key goals of [blood sugar] control, blood pressure control and control of high cholesterol," Selvin said.
Diabetes occurs when the body is unable to produce sufficient amounts of insulin, which helps the digestive system process sugars, leading to elevated levels in the blood, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of the disease, and it has been linked with poor diet and lack of exercise, among other factors, the association says.
The disease affects more than 34 million people, or 13% of the adult population of the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Adults with chronic high blood sugar as a result of diabetes often also suffer from high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which increases their risks of other serious health problems, especially heart and kidney disease, Selvin and her colleagues said.
For the new study, Selvin and colleagues examined data from the U.S. government-supported National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which includes interviews and clinical exams for approximately 5,000 people across the country annually.
The study population consisted of 6,653 participants in the surveys from 1999 to 2018, and all of them were age 20 years and older and had been diagnosed with diabetes, the researchers said.
Their findings suggest that something has changed over the past decade to reverse progress made among those with the disease in controlling these key health measures, they said.
"These trends are a wake-up call, since they mean that millions of Americans with diabetes are at higher risk for major complications," study co-author Michael Fang said in a statement.
"Our study suggests that worsening control of diabetes may already be having a detrimental effect at the national level," said Fang, a post-doctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins.