Simple Questionnaire Could Be One of the Best Diabetes Screening Tests Yet

A simple self-assessment questionnaire developed by researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City may be the best means yet for screening people who are unaware that they have diabetes or who are at risk of developing it. The questionnaire asks about six factors that have proven to be the most reliable in predicting diabetes: age, gender, level of physical activity, hypertension, obesity, and family history of diabetes.

Researchers used information gleaned from the 1999 to 2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, conducted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The survey tracked 5,258 American adults of different ethnicities, aged 20 years or older, to establish a statistical norm for, among other things, factors that could be linked to undiagnosed diabetes.

Each of the six factors on the questionnaire receives a score. For example, obesity and age can each be scored up to three points, while the four other factors can receive only one point. On the resulting 10-point scale, a score of five is considered high-risk and sufficient reason to test for diabetes. According to the questionnaire’s designers, 35 percent of adults using the assessment will need further screening for diabetes. They are hopeful that the questionnaire will boost the number of people who will learn that they are high risk for diabetes and seek help. In the case of people with pre-diabetes, early detection can lead to lifestyle changes, such as increased exercise and healthy diet, that can dramatically reduce their risk of developing the disease.

The hope is that the questionnaire will become an accessible staple in doctors’ waiting rooms, community hospitals, and online. In addition to its simplicity and its accuracy in revealing who should seek testing for diabetes, the test’s applicability to the general adult U.S. population is a boon. Unlike the WCMC’s questionnaire, many current diabetes detection tests are aimed at specific populations and cannot be used dependably with other groups.

If the questionnaire catches on, it could lower the number of people with diabetes, estimated at 30 percent, who go undiagnosed. Its explicit recommendation to get tested in the event of a score of five or more may be just the goad that people need.  

The WCMC team published its findings in the December 1, 2009, Annals of Internal Medicine.

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