Diabetics' Quest for This 7% Target 'Could Kill Them'

Reuters dives deep into the A1c target and drugmakers' role in pushing it
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 4, 2021 4:20 PM CST
Diabetics' Quest for This 7% Target Can Be Deadly
A blood glucose monitor is shown.   (Getty Images)

"He really tried hard to be at" an A1c below 7%, said Lucy Carlson. "That is what actually killed him." If that doesn't make sense to you, there's a good chance you don't have diabetes. Carlson's husband Ron did—type 2, since 2001—and his wife said he fixated on getting his A1c score down. A1c is a measure of your average blood sugar level over a 3-month period, and as Robin Respaut, Chad Terhune, and Deborah Nelson write in a lengthy piece for Reuters, that under-7% target is one the drug industry has been promoting for two decades, leaving many people "chasing a treatment goal that could kill them." The authors dig deep into the history of that push, which they say has been led by Aventis SA of France and adopted by rivals like Novo Nordisk A/S and Eli Lilly & Co.

The promotion of that target emerged "just as they were launching new formulations of insulin and other diabetes drugs" they painted as being able to get patients to that number, which they said would reduce the risk of long-term complications from the disease. They also funneled donations to the American Diabetes Association and other groups, getting them on board. But they weren't as vocal about the risks of the drugs that can drive high blood glucose down, which "carry the risk of going too far, tipping a patient into hypoglycemic crisis." It's what happened to Ron Carlson: Plunging blood glucose had caused him to faint, crash a car, and be hospitalized. Then, in July 2019, it happened again, this time as he was parking his motorcycle. He ended up squeezing the throttle and careening nearly 100 feet into a parked car; he didn't survive. (Read the full story for much more, including the take of a scientist involved in the original A1c research: "Marketing that everyone in the world needs to have an A1c less than 7% is crazy.")

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