Diabetes: a serious global health problem on the rise
If you have diabetes or are at risk for developing the disease, you’re certainly not alone. It is estimated that almost 400 million people worldwide are affected by diabetes. Unfortunately, the numbers of people with diabetes are increasing in every country.1
One large study conducted in China in 2010, which included 100,000 people, found that 11.6% of participants had type 2 diabetes and about half had pre diabetes (defined as impaired glucose tolerance, impaired fasting glucose, or A1C between 5.7% and 6.4%).1
In the US alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that in 2010 diabetes affected 25.8 million people (that’s 8.3% of the population). Among these, 18.8 million were diagnosed and 7 million were undiagnosed. Diabetes was most common in people 65 years of age or older, occurring in approximately 27% of this age group.2
The statistics are even more sobering if you consider the percentages of adults in the US with prediabetes. Based on statistics from 2005 to 2008, the CDC found that 35% of US adults (age 20 years and older) had prediabetes, with the highest rate among adults 65 years of age and older. Prediabetes affects 1 in 2 adults (50%) in this age range. When these percentages are applied to the entire population of the US (2010 census data), this translates to 79 million adults 20 years of age or older with prediabetes.2
Dramatic increase in numbers for type 2 diabetes in US
Results from two major studies conducted in the US have shown a dramatic increase in the prevalence of type 2 diabetes over the past four decades. The Framingham Heart Study (a very important long-term health study conducted in a group of people from Framingham, Massachusetts) found a doubling of the number of new cases of type 2 diabetes over a period of 30 years (from the 1970s to the 1990s). Results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) suggest that rates of type 2 diabetes have increased by four times over the past three decades.1
Diabetes increases risk for other serious health problems
A serious problem with serious consequences
According to national data for the year 2007, diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in the US. 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 up to 4-fold increased risk for heart disease and stroke
- The leading cause of blindness
- The leading cause of kidney failure
- Associated with high rates of nervous system damage
- Associated with high rates of amputation due to non-healing wounds
Learn more about the complications of diabetes
Are there factors that increase risk for type 2 diabetes?
Studies have shown that several factor increase risk for developing type 2 diabetes. These include 1:
- Family history: 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.
- Ethnicity: 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.
- Sedentary lifestyle: 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 for developing type 2 diabetes.
- Smoking. 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
Risk for developing type 2 diabetes varies somewhat among different ethnic and age groups.According to one recent national survey the prevalence of type 2 diabetes (what percentage of people had the disease at a given point in time) was 1:
- 7.1% among whites (non-Hispanic)
- 8.4% among Asian Americans
- 11.8% among Hispanics
- 12.6% among African Americans
Additionally, the prevalence among certain Native American groups was as high as 33.5%.1
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
Can I do anything to decrease my risk for 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.11
Other lifestyle factors that are within your power to change and which may decrease your risk for type 2 diabetes include 1:
- Exercise: Regular moderate physical activity has been shown to decrease risk for type 2 diabetes
- Smoking: Studies have established a link between smoking and 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.
- Diet. 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 risk for developing type 2 diabetes.