Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2019. | Last updated: March 2022
If you have diabetes or are at risk for developing the disease, you’re certainly not alone. It is estimated that over 420 million people worldwide are affected by diabetes. Unfortunately, the number of people with diabetes is increasing in every country, especially low- and middle-income countries. Current data suggests that over 8% of adults worldwide have diabetes1
In the US alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that as of 2015, diabetes affected over 30 million people (or about one out of every ten individuals), with over 90% of these cases being type 2 diabetes.2,3 There are over one million new cases of type 2 diabetes diagnosed each year, and roughly a quarter of those with diabetes are undiagnosed (do not know they have the condition).3 Diabetes is most common in people 65 years of age or older, occurring in approximately 25% of this age group. Geographically, adults in the south and Appalachian areas of America are more likely to have diabetes, with these areas also having the highest rates of new diagnoses.3
The statistics are even more sobering if you consider the percentages of adults in the US with prediabetes. In addition to the more than 30 million in America with diabetes, an additional 84 million are thought to have prediabetes, which often leads to type 2 diabetes within a few years of diagnosis. Less than 12% of those with prediabetes actually know they have the condition, and men are more likely to have prediabetes than women (37% of men versus 29% of women).3
Over the years, the prevalence of diabetes in the US has increased. For example, in 1958, there were only 1.6 million cases, making up 0.93% of Americans. In 2015 however, the prevalence was in the 20 millions, or close to 7.5% of Americans.4 The reasons for this increase in prevalence may stem from societal changes in activity or eating habits, as well as the rise of better diagnostic tools and understanding of the condition.
Type 2 diabetes has serious consequences
According to national data for the year 2015, diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in the US.3 Diabetes is associated with a long list of serious health complications, including cardiovascular disease, vision problems, kidney disease, nervous system disease, and amputations. Recent studies have found that diabetes is:2
- Associated with an up to two-fold increased risk for heart disease and stroke (including having these issues at an earlier age than non-diabetics)
- A leading cause of blindness
- The leading cause of chronic kidney disease
- Associated with high rates of nervous system damage
- Associated with high rates of amputation due to non-healing wounds
Are there factors that increase risk for type 2 diabetes?
Studies have shown that several factors increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. These include:2,5
Having any first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) with type 2 diabetes can increase risk by 2 to 3 times and having both a maternal and paternal history of type 2 diabetes can increase risk by 5 to 6 times.
Asian, African, and Hispanic Americans appear to be at higher risk than whites.
Overweight and obesity
Risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases with increasing body weight.
Fat distribution in the waist-to-hip area
Distribution of body fat in the waist-to-hip area has been associated with increased insulin resistance and increased risk for type 2 diabetes.
Risk of developing type 2 diabetes is increased in people who are not active and lead a sedentary lifestyle. Regular physical activity has been shown to decrease the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Smoking has been shown to increase blood glucose levels and impair insulin sensitivity. Additionally, smoking is associated with fat distribution in the waist-to-hip area, which has been shown to be associated with insulin resistance.
Risk of type 2 diabetes varies among different ethnic and age groups
The risk for developing type 2 diabetes varies somewhat among different ethnic and age groups. According to recent estimates, the prevalence of diabetes (what percentage of people had the disease at a given point in time) was approximated to be the following:3
- 7.4% among whites (non-Hispanic)
- 8.0% among Asian Americans
- 12.1% among Hispanics
- 12.7% among African Americans
- 15.1% among American Indians/Alaska Natives
The risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases as you get older. Results of one national health survey showed that the prevalence of all types of diabetes (both diagnosed and undiagnosed) among US adults was substantially higher in the group of people ages 60 years and over compared with adults who were younger.3
Although diabetes prevalence increases with age, diabetes occurs at a similar rate among adult men and women.3
Lifestyle changes to decrease risk of type 2 diabetes
There is a strong genetic component to type 2 diabetes. In other words, if type 2 diabetes runs in your family, your chances of developing the disease are greater and, because we can’t do anything about the genes we inherit, we must accept this increased risk. However, because type 2 diabetes is also a disease of lifestyle (that is, lifestyle choices have a definite impact on risk), you can make changes in your lifestyle and reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes or, if you have the disease, improve your ability to control your blood sugar.
Just as obesity increases your risk for diabetes, losing weight and keeping those pounds off decreases risk and, if you have diabetes, reducing your weight will improve your ability to control your blood sugar. A strong body of research has shown that weight loss results in improved sensitivity to insulin and a correction in the balance of hormones involved in glucose control.5
Other lifestyle factors that are within your power to change and which may decrease your risk for type 2 diabetes include:5
Regular moderate physical activity has been shown to decrease the risk for type 2 diabetes.
Studies have established a link between smoking and the risk of developing diabetes (one study even showed that second-hand smoke increased risk). However, the link is not as clear as with obesity and lack of physical activity. Additionally, quitting smoking is sometimes accompanied by weight gain. You should definitely consider kicking the habit if you smoke, but conventional wisdom says that you should also accompany smoking cessation with a plan for losing weight and getting regular exercise.
Restricting calorie intake has been shown to be important to both weight loss and control of blood glucose. Therefore, for most people with type 2 diabetes or who are at risk and who are overweight or obese, adopting a diet that is lower in calories is an important step in achieving glucose control and/or reducing the risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
Learn more about healthy eating and other healthy lifestyle changes to prevent diabetes and to stay healthy if you have diabetes.