In the United States, 1 in 3 people will have Type 2 diabetes by 2050 if current trends continue, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The projections, released today, are alarming to U.S. health officials, who say the numbers highlight the need for interventions to keep the number of new cases from climbing.
Currently, 1 in 10 Americans has Type 2 diabetes. But if new cases develop as projected, its prevalence could double or triple over the next 40 years, said Ann Albright, director of the Division of Diabetes Translation at the CDC.
"We can't have that, it's unsustainable," Albright told MyHealthNewsDaily.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, and is triggered by a combination of unchangeable factors, such as family history and race, and controllable factors, such as obesity and inactivity, according to the Mayo Clinic.
It's also the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, according to 2007 data, and is the leading cause of leg and foot amputations, kidney failure and new cases of blindness in adults under age 75, according to the CDC.
The costs of diabetes add up to about $174 billion a year, the CDC said.
Explaining the increase
An aging population and the growth of minority populations are expected to add to the disease's prevalence, Albright said. African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and certain Asians and Pacific Islanders are at high risk of developing diabetes.
Advances in medicine, which may help people with the disease live longer, and better detection of diabetes are other reasons why its prevalence could dramatically increase by 2050, she said. Right now, 24 million Americans have Type 2 diabetes, but a quarter of them don't know it, according to the CDC.
And because people are living longer, more cases are likely to come from older people. The percentage of people ages 65 and older with diabetes is expected to increase; it was 12.4 percent in 2000, but will be 19.6 percent in 2030, Albright said.
"We're living longer, but Type 2 diabetes does get more prevalent as you age," she said. "The body's ability to use insulin does gradually decline, but that can be slowed by maintenance, diet and regular physical activity."
Need for interventions
Right now, about 60 million people in the United States have pre-diabetes — a stage of insulin resistance before full-blown diabetes. If these people don't change their exercise and eating habits now, they will develop diabetes in the next three to six years, Albright said.
"They don’t have a big window," she said.
It will take a combination of personal decisions and policy changes to turn the diabetes rate around. Making healthy food more accessible and implementing prevention programs will help, she said.
One such program is the CDC's new National Diabetes Prevention Program, which aims to provide people with information about diabetes, promote lifestyle changes and reduce disparities between different groups.
A clinical trial showed that high-risk people who went through this prevention program reduced their risk of developing diabetes by 58 percent, according to the report.
"It's not enough for research to be done, you need to get the [information] in people's hands," Albright said. The intervention program makes use of the research, but "environmental and lifestyle changes need to complement it to be successful."