Closely intertwined with the obesity epidemic, there is another national struggle: Type 2 diabetes. According to a report released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 40 percent of Americans will develop diabetes sometime during their adult lives.
Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90 to 95 percent of all diabetes cases in the U.S. The disease occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin, or the insulin that is produced does not function properly, triggering abnormal blood sugar levels.
For the study published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, Dr. Edward Gregg, chief of the Epidemiology and Statistics Branch, Division of Diabetes Translation at the CDC, analyzed data from 1985 to 2011. All information was used to estimate the risk of diabetes in the U.S., in addition to life lost due to the condition.
Gregg and his colleagues found that for an average 20-year-old American male, the lifetime risk of developing Type 2 diabetes rose from 20 percent in the late 1980s to 40 percent by 2011. For women, the risk jumped from 27 percent to 39 percent.
In the last few years, the results follow a sharper trend. Roughly 25.8 million Americans had the condition in 2010, which then increased to 29.1 million by 2012.
"We weren't necessarily surprised that it increased, but we didn't expect it to increase this much," Gregg said in the statement. "Forty percent is a humbling number."
Minority groups most at risk
Certain minority groups face a higher risk of this blood-sugar disease. Half of Hispanic men and black women are predicted to get Type 2 diabetes during their lifetime, the researchers reported.
These findings hinge on the fact that minorities or people from lower-income families in the U.S. are also more likely to become obese – the grander-scheme problem that's associated with poorer diets and lack of exercise.
However, not all news from the study was bad. The researchers found that people with Type 2 diabetes complications are living longer than in the past. The number of years lost to a diabetes patient diagnosed at age 40 declined from almost 8 years in the 1990s to about 6 years in the 2000s for men, and from nearly 9 years to fewer than 7 years for women.
What wasn't exactly highlighted in the study is the lurking issue of prediabetes. With so many people tottering on the threshold of developing the Type 2 diabetes, it means that many already have prediabetes, a condition when an individual has glucose levels that are higher than normal but not high enough to indicate diabetes.
To elaborate, normal blood sugar levels measure less than 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl). Blood glucose levels of 100-125 mg/dl after an overnight or eight-hour fast may indicate prediabetes, while diabetes is diagnosed when the blood glucose is 126 mg/dl or above.
Gregg pointed out that as cases continue to increase and patients live longer, more effective lifestyle interventions are urgently needed.
Dr. Lorraine Lipscombe, of Women's College Hospital and the University of Toronto, agreed. In an editorial connected to the study, Lipscombe said that prevention strategies are imperative, but only a population-based approach will be able to address a problem of this magnitude.
"Prevention strategies should include optimization of urban planning, food-marketing policies, and work and school environments that enable individuals to make healthier lifestyle choices," she elaborated.
To learn more about living with diabetes: