Why is diabetes increasing at such an alarming rate?
At last count there were about 37.3 million adult Americans living with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. That’s roughly 10% of the total U.S. population – a lot of people!
What’s even more alarming is that about 1 out of 5 people who have diabetes don’t experience severe symptoms and remain undiagnosed, which increases the risk for serious health complications down the road, including cardiovascular disease, kidney damage and stroke.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also estimates that more than 1 out of every 3 adult Americans can be classified as prediabetic. This means they are already living with elevated blood sugar and are on the fast track to developing Type 2 diabetes unless immediate lifestyle changes are made.
Suffice it to say, we know that diabetes is a growing problem in the United States. But recent numbers indicate that the rate of increase might be a lot more dramatic than once thought, and that the rise in new cases of diabetes might skew toward younger individuals, which is a frightening proposition.
Diabetes Could Dramatically Impact Young Americans
According to recent findings issued by the CDC, based on a modeling study published on December 29, 2022, in the American Diabetes Association journal, Diabetes Care, it is likely that instances of Type 2 diabetes among young people in the United States – defined as 20 years old or less – could skyrocket an astonishing 685% by the year 2060! That’s an extraordinary and unsettling rate of increase. What’s more the models show that Type 1 diabetes among young people could also increase by 65% over the same time period.
What Diabetes Diagnosis Models Show
While forecasted projections are not absolute, they are based on trends in diabetes diagnoses among young Americans. The study uses incidence rates from 2017 as a benchmark. Researchers determined that if the rate of growth in diabetes remained consistent from 2017 through 2060, the rate of increase would be about 12% - from about 213,000 to 239,000 individuals. Not exactly news to celebrate, but not entirely shocking.
However, when examining the rate of increase in diabetes cases that happened between 2002 and 2017, and assuming this rate of increase will continue the same trajectory, it could mean that as many as 526,000 young Americans have diabetes by 2060.
The research also pointed out that young people who are Black, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander and Native American/Alaskan will probably shoulder a great burden in terms of the rise in diabetes cases among American youth.
“This new research should serve as a wake-up call for all of us. It’s vital that we focus our efforts to ensure all Americans, especially young people, are the healthiest they can be,” said Dr. Debra Houry, acting principal director of the CDC.
Christopher Holiday, director of the CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation, stated, “This study’s startling projections of Type 2 diabetes increases show why it is crucial to advance health equity and reduce the widespread disparities that already take a toll on people’s health.”
Why is the Rate of Diabetes Increasing
Diabetes, particularly the Type 2 form of the disease, is clearly impacting American youth at a disturbingly high rate. But the fact is, diabetes is on the rise across age demographics. Why is this happening? There are several factors that are likely contributing to the increase in diabetes diagnoses.
The Increase in Obesity in America
Obesity is one of the greatest contributing factors to the development of Type 2 diabetes. Not only is the number of individuals living with obesity increasing in the United States, but instances of childhood obesity and obesity in young adults are especially on the rise. According to the CDC, 39.8% of adults ages 20-39 qualify as obese in the United States; 44.3% of adults aged 40-59; and 41.5% of adults aged 60 and older.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, if you’re obese you are about six times more likely to develop diabetes than a person who maintains a healthy weight. Carrying too much weight increases insulin resistance, inhibiting the body from properly processing blood sugar, which can eventually result in a diabetes diagnosis.
Lack of Physical Activity
Living a sedentary lifestyle is also a contributing factor to the development of diabetes, in large part because inactivity often leads to unwanted weight gain. In the past decades, we have become a nation of computer and screen junkies, and this includes many children and young people who spend hours each day sitting in front of a device.
We’re Living Longer
Advances in medicine and wellbeing have resulted in a population that lives longer. Age is also a contributing factor to diabetes, so it only makes sense that a community that includes more seniors might include more cases of diabetes.
Better Diabetes Screening
One reason we might be seeing a rise in diabetes cases is a good one. As diabetes awareness has grown in recent years, more and more at-risk individuals are approaching their physicians to get tested. Additionally, the healthcare community is proactively testing more people who are deemed at risk due to obesity, family history or other reasons. An increase in diabetes screening leads to more diagnoses – and that’s a great thing because undiagnosed diabetes has some serious consequences.
The Impact of Diabetes in America
Diabetes is the eighth leading cause of death in the United States. The CDC estimates the costs associated with medical bills and lost wages as a result of diabetes to be $327 billion! On an individual level, those living with diabetes face an increased risk of related health complications, including heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, nerve damage, and vision problems.
On a more positive note, new advances in blood sugar testing and diabetes management have made living with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes easier than at any other time in human history. If you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, proper blood sugar control can help you dramatically reduce the risk of diabetes-related complications and live a healthier life. Work with your doctor and care team to develop a personal diabetes management plan to fit your lifestyle and treatment needs.
Diabetes may be on the rise in America, but always remember your personal diabetes management is something you control.
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