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Half of Americans Have Diabetes or High Blood Sugar, Survey Finds

Half of all U.S. adults have diabetes or blood sugar so high they’re almost diabetic, researchers reported Tuesday.
Diabetes screening
A man's finger is pricked to test cholesterol and blood sugar Rick Gershon / Getty Images

Half of all U.S. adults have diabetes or blood sugar so high they’re almost diabetic, researchers reported Tuesday.

And for the first time they’ve looked at diabetes rates among Asian-Americans and find they are nearly as high as rates among other minorities. Twenty percent of Asian-Americans had diabetes, the survey found, and half of them were not aware of it.

Andy Menke of global health research company Social & Scientific Systems, Catherine Cowie of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and others used annual national survey data of 5,000 people for their report.

They found that 12 percent to 14 percent of adults had diagnosed diabetes in 2012, the latest data available. It’s almost all Type 2 diabetes, which is caused by poor diet, obesity and a lack of exercise.

While 11 percent of whites had diabetes, nearly twice as many – 22 percent – of blacks did. More than 20 percent of Asians had diabetes and 22.6 percent of Hispanics did.

“The proportion of diabetes that’s undiagnosed is as high as 50 percent in Asian-Americans and the Hispanic population compared to about a third in whites and it blacks,” Cowie said.

They found a steep rise in diabetes between 1990 and 2008, and found it started leveling off after that.

“Diabetes prevalence significantly increased over time in every age group, in both sexes, in every racial/ethnic group, by all education levels, and in all poverty income (groups),” the team wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“When stratified by BMI, diabetes only increased among people with a BMI of 30 or greater.” BMI or body mass index is a measure of obesity. People with a BMI of 30 or higher are medically obese.

One exception – diabetic Asian-Americans only had an average BMI of 25 – making them overweight but not obese, the researchers said.

Diabetes directly kills more than 71,000 people a year, according to the American Diabetes Association.

The results fit in with a different Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that found last year that 29 million Americans have diabetes and another 86 million – a third of the adult population – have pre-diabetes.

The disease cost the country an estimated $245 billion in 2012 due to increased use of health resources and lost productivity, the researchers said.