As many as one-third of American adults could develop diabetes in the next 40 years, according to a new analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Diabetes was the seventh-leading cause of death in 2007, and it's the leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults under age 75, according to the CDC report. The disease is also among the most expensive chronic illnesses to treat and is considered one of the culprits in rising health care costs.
Treating patients with diabetes currently costs $174 billion a year, according to the report, published in the journal Population Health Metrics. In addition, pre- or undiagnosed diabetes (when a person's blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes) accounts for $25 billion, according to the American Diabetes Association.
The disease is expected to take an even greater financial toll in the coming years if current trends continue.
The number of Americans with diabetes has been steadily rising: From 1997 to 2003, the incidence of diagnosed diabetes increased 41%. One in 10 U.S. adults currently suffers from diabetes, but one-quarter of those people are not aware that they have the disease, the CDC reports.
The researchers looked at various models to calculate the incidence of diabetes in the next four decades. The conservative projection is that the total number of diagnosed and undiagnosed cases will increase to 21% of the adult population by 2050. However, at current rates, the number of Americans with diabetes will jump to 33%, or one-third of all American adults.
"These projected increases are largely attributable to the aging of the U.S. population, increasing numbers of members of higher-risk minority groups in the population, and people with diabetes living longer," the report states. Obesity has also been linked to an increased risk of developing diabetes.
According to the American Diabetes Association, people at risk for type 2 diabetes include those with impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) and/or impaired fasting glucose (IFG); those over age 45; those with a family history of diabetes; those who are overweight; those who do not exercise regularly; those with low HDL cholesterol or high triglycerides, with high blood pressure; and members of certain racial and ethnic groups. In addition, women who had gestational diabetes, or who have had a baby weighing nine pounds or more at birth, also face an increased risk.
Needed: Effective Prevention Strategies
The CDC researchers note that lifestyle interventions can reduce the number of Americans who develop type 2 diabetes. For example, a healthy diet, physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight can prevent or delay the onset of diabetes.
"Effective strategies will need to be undertaken to moderate the impact of these factors on national diabetes burden," the authors conclude. "Our analysis suggests that widespread implementation of reasonably effective preventive interventions focused on high-risk subgroups of the population can considerably reduce, but not eliminate, future increases in diabetes prevalence."