Applied Evidence

Diabetes update: Your guide to the latest ADA standards

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The authors highlight the latest changes in the ADA standards and review recommendations of particular relevance for family physicians.



Prevention of diabetes, as well as early detection and treatment of both prediabetes and diabetes, is critical to the health of our country. Because evidence-based guidelines are key to our ability to effectively address the nation’s diabetes epidemic, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) updates its “Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes” annually to incorporate new evidence or clarifications.

The 2016 standards,1 available at, are a valuable resource. Among the latest revisions: an expansion in screening recommendations, a change in the age at which aspirin therapy for women should be considered, and a change in A1C goals for pregnant women with diabetes.

As members of the ADA’s primary care advisory group, we use a question and answer format in the summary that follows to highlight recent revisions and review other recommendations that are of particular relevance to physicians in primary care. It is important to note, however, that ADA recommendations are not intended to preclude clinical judgment and should be applied in the context of excellent medical care.

Diagnosis and screening

Have the 2016 ADA standards changed the way diabetes is diagnosed?

No. The criteria for a diagnosis of diabetes did not change. Diabetes and prediabetes are still screened for and diagnosed with any of the following: a fasting plasma glucose (FPG); a 2-hour 75-g oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT); a random plasma glucose >200 mg/dL with symptoms of hyperglycemia; or A1C criteria (TABLE 1).1,2 The wording was changed, however, to make it clear that no one test is preferred over another for diagnosis.

Have screening recommendations been revised?

Yes. In addition to screening asymptomatic adults of any age who are overweight or obese and have one or more additional risk factors for diabetes, the 2016 standards recommend screening all adults 45 years and older, regardless of weight.

Is an A1C <7% the recommended treatment goal for everyone with diabetes?

No. An A1C <7% is considered reasonable for most, but not all, nonpregnant adults. In the last few years, the ADA has focused more on individualized targets.

Tighter control (<6.5%)—which is associated with lower rates of eye disease, kidney disease, and nerve damage—may be appropriate for patients who have no significant hypoglycemia, no cardiovascular disease (CVD), a shorter duration of diabetes, or a longer expected lifespan.

Conversely, a higher target (<8%) may be appropriate for patients who are older, have longstanding diabetes, advanced macrovascular or microvascular disease, established complications, or a limited life expectancy.3,4

The latest ADA revisions include an expansion in screening recommendations and changes in the age at which aspirin therapy for women should be considered and in A1C goals for pregnant women with diabetes.

Pregnancy. The 2016 standards have a new target for pregnant women with diabetes: The ADA previously recommended an A1C <6% for this patient population, but now recommends a target A1C between 6% and 6.5%. This may be tightened or relaxed, however, depending on individual risk of hypoglycemia.

In focusing on individualized targets and hypoglycemia avoidance, the ADA notes that attention must be paid to fasting, pre-meal, and post-meal blood glucose levels to achieve treatment goals. The 2016 standards emphasize the importance of patient-centered diabetes care, aligned with a coordinated, team-based chronic care model.

Diabetes self-management education and support is indicated for those who are newly diagnosed, and should be provided periodically based on glucose control and progression of the disease. All patients should receive education on hypoglycemia risk and treatment.

Prediabetes and prevention

What is prediabetes and what can I do to prevent patients with prediabetes from developing diabetes?

Patients with impaired glucose tolerance, impaired fasting glucose, or an A1C between 5.7% and 6.4% are considered to have prediabetes and are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

Family physicians should refer patients with prediabetes to intensive diet, physical activity, and behavioral counseling programs like those based on the Diabetes Prevention Program study ( Goals should include a minimum 7% weight loss and moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking, for at least 150 minutes per week.

For patients with diabetes, a sustained weight loss of 5% may improve glycemic control and reduce the need for medication.

Lifestyle modification programs have been shown to be very effective in preventing diabetes, with about a 58% reduction in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes after 3 years.5 The 2016 standards added a recommendation that physicians encourage the use of new technology, such as text messaging or smart phone apps, to support such efforts.

Should I consider initiating oral antiglycemics in patients with prediabetes?


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