Risk of Diabetes Doubles as Disease Rises Sharply in U.S.

Forty percent of Americans born from 2000 to 2011 will develop diabetes, double the risk of those born a decade earlier, signaling a sharp increase in the disease’s prevalence, researchers found.

Doctors are diagnosing more patients who are living longer with their diabetes, according to a study published today in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. As the number of patients increases, so will the burden on the U.S. health-care system, said Edward Gregg, the study’s lead author and an epidemiologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“That’s a very real statistic not only for the public but also for the people treating and trying to prevent diabetes,” Gregg said. “I hope this will be a stimulus really to find ways to prevent diabetes in the first place and reduce incidence.”

The risk is even higher for minorities. More than half of all Hispanics and non-Hispanic black women born from 2000 to 2011 will develop diabetes in their lifetime, the study found. For black men, the lifetime risk is 45 percent.

These groups have faced higher rates of diabetes for years. “Fortunately the same approaches that can reduce diabetes in low-risk populations, like non-Hispanic whites, can work in high-risk populations,” Gregg said in a telephone interview.

More than 29 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, according to the latest data from the CDC. Diabetics can’t produce insulin to convert food into energy or their bodies don’t use insulin properly. The majority have Type 2, which typically develops in adults and is linked to a sedentary lifestyle.

Rising Costs

The cost to treat diabetes rose 41 percent for the U.S. health-care system to more than $245 billion in 2012 from 2007, according to the American Diabetes Association.

The Lancet study examined data from 600,000 adults from 1985 to 2011. The risk of developing diabetes has grown, doubling for U.S. men. Men born from 1985 to 1999 had a 21 percent chance of getting the disease, and women a 27 percent likelihood, according to the research.

A leveling off of obesity rates provides hope that policy changes and encouraging healthy choices can decrease the future risk of the disease, Gregg said.

“It’s going to involve identifying people who are high risk and giving them the tools to change their behavior,” he said. “There are ways to change the risk of the whole population as well.”

Healthy Choices

More than one-third of U.S. adults are obese, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Being overweight and obese has been tied to rising costs and health issues, including diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol.

Stopping the increase in diabetes means creating an environment where it is easier to make a healthy choice, said Lorraine Lipscombe, an endocrinologist at Women’s College Research Institute in Toronto, Canada.

“I think most of us believe that you can improve people’s health through choice promotion,” said Lipscombe, who wrote a commentary published with the article and wasn’t involved with the study. “If they have two choices in front of them often the easiest one is the unhealthy one. We want the healthy choice to be easier.”

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