Even in this Economy, Americans Fear Chronic Illnesses More than Debt, Divorce or Job Loss

March 24, 2009

As the American Diabetes Association holds its 21st annual American Diabetes Alert® Day today, survey results reveal that while more Americans fear developing a chronic illness more than amassing considerable debt, losing a job or leaving a loved one, they are doing very little to curb their risk for diabetes. A study commissioned by the American Diabetes Association, Is That Risky, and conducted by Harris Interactive, surveyed more than 2,500 American adults ages 18 and older to gauge their attitudes and actions concerning risky behaviors.

One in four Americans living with diabetes is unaware that they even have the disease. In addition, 57 million Americans have pre-diabetes, where blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not yet high enough to be officially diagnosed as diabetes. Yet, while those polled see unhealthy behaviors, such as ignoring advice from a medical professional, as riskier than sky-diving or investing in today’s stock market, roughly half follow poor diets, avoid doctors’ visits and maintain what they view as an unhealthy weight. The survey was funded as part of a three-year, $1.5 million grant to the American Diabetes Association from the WellPoint Foundation, a private, non-profit organization wholly funded by WellPoint, Inc.

“We know Americans view activities like bungee jumping as especially risky and so they avoid them,” said Richard M. Bergenstal, MD, President-Elect, Medicine & Science, American Diabetes Association. “However, these same people are gambling daily by ignoring risk factors for a life-altering disease like diabetes and doing nothing about it. We urge everyone to visit www.diabetes.org/alert or call 1-800-DIABETES to take the first steps towards preventing a chronic disease that already affects millions of people in this country.”

Among the survey’s key findings:

  • More than half (52 percent) of Americans say the worst thing that could happen to them, from a pre-identified list, is developing a chronic illness compared with amassing considerable financial debt (19 percent), getting divorced or living alone (13 percent), or losing their job (11 percent)
  • About half of Americans have not talked to their doctor about common chronic illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, HIV/AIDS or Alzheimer’s
  • While nearly all adults can correctly name at least one risk factor for diabetes - more than half of those polled mistakenly cited “eating too much sugar” as a risk factor for diabetes
  • Significant numbers of people who report they are extremely or very likely to develop diabetes have engaged in behaviors that they feel will put them at risk for the disease. Majorities acknowledge that they have followed a poor diet (67 percent) or maintained an unhealthy weight (62 percent) yet even larger majorities recognize being overweight or obese (83%) as a risk factor for diabetes.
  • Overall, 66 percent of adults say avoiding doctors visits is risky, yet 50 percent admit to this behavior
  • Likewise, 70 percent of all adults view maintaining an unhealthy weight as risky, yet 46 percent admit to doing so

Alerting people about the risk of diabetes is so important to American Diabetes Association supporters that they are telling their employees to take the Diabetes Risk Test on March 24, reaching an additional 545,000 people. Alerting their employees are:

  • Aetna, Inc.
  • AstraZeneca
  • Boar’s Head Provisions Co., Inc.
  • Bristol-Myers Squibb Company
  • Merisant US, Inc., makers of Equal sweetener
  • Hill and Valley, Inc.
  • Lifescan, Inc.
  • Kraft Foods
  • Kmart Pharmacy
  • McNeil Nutritionals, LLC, makers of Splenda® Sweetener Products and and Suncrystals® All-Natural Sweetener
  • Novo Nordisk Inc.
  • Service Corporation International
  • Solvay Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
  • VSP® Vision Care
  • WellPoint Foundation

American Diabetes Alert Day serves as a one-day wake-up call to the nation that encourages all Americans to take the Diabetes Risk Test to find out if they are in danger of developing type 2 diabetes. The risk test shows individuals whether they are at low, moderate or high risk for type 2 diabetes by asking questions about age, family history and other potential risk factors. The test is free and is available at www.diabetes.org/alert and 1-800-DIABETES (1-800-342-2383) in both English and Spanish.

Survey Methodology

This Is That Risky? research was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of the American Diabetes Association between February 26 and March 2, 2009 among 2,516 U.S. residents aged 18 or older. No estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated; a full methodology is available.


The American Diabetes Association is leading the fight to Stop Diabetes and its deadly consequences and fighting for those affected by diabetes. The Association funds research to prevent, cure and manage diabetes; delivers services to hundreds of communities; provides objective and credible information; and gives voice to those denied their rights because of diabetes. Since 1940, our mission has been to prevent and cure diabetes and to improve the lives of all people affected by diabetes. For more information please call the American Diabetes Association at 1-800-DIABETES (800-342-2383) or visit diabetes.org. Information from both these sources is available in English and Spanish.