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7 Frightening Facts About The U.S. Diabetes Epidemic

Many of us have some connection to diabetes in one way or another, whether it runs in our families, have a friend with it, or maybe even lost a loved one to the disease.

For those who don’t know, diabetes is a chronic condition, caused by the inability of the body to correctly use or make insulin (an essential pancreas-produced hormone).

Insulin lets the glucose from food we digest travel into our body’s cells, and it is then transformed into energy for the body’s tissues and muscles to function properly. When glucose does not go through this natural process (in diabetes), tissues eventually damage, which can cause life-threatening situations.1 In fact, these high-glucose levels can often lead to diseases related to the heart and blood vessels, kidneys, nerves, and eyes.

The Hows And Whys of the Diabetes Epidemic

There are three types of diabetes, including type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). Unfortunately, the rate of people developing different types of diabetes is rising rapidly each and every year, and it is not limited to one specific population.23

1. Over 25 Million People in the U.S Have Diabetes.

The amount of Americans (including children and adults) diagnosed with diabetes more than tripled from 1980 to 2011. Plus, another 79 million people have pre-diabetes, which puts them at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

2. Obesity and Inactivity is a Critical Risk Factor.

The number of obese people over the age of 18 with diagnosed diabetes increased from about 35 percent to 57 percent in a 16-year period (between 1994 and 2010). In fact, around 85 percent were overweight (or obese). Additionally, more than a third of adults diagnosed with diabetes in 2010 reported no physical activity participation within the past month, and nearly 60 percent of people diagnosed with diabetes in 2009 reported to have high cholesterol.

3. Around 215,000 Children and Adolescents Had Diabetes by 2010.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to detect type 2 diabetes in children because they may have minimal or nonsexist symptoms, and blood tests are necessary in order to make a diagnosis. Type 1 diabetes is unrelated to sugar consumption, while type 2 is often genetically inherited. Nevertheless, type 2 diabetes can be related to eating too much sugar because it can lead to weight gain and obesity.

4. Women Can Have More Complications.4

On average, women can have more difficulties than men, such as a higher risk of developing heart and kidney diseases, and obesity, and often have unhealthier cholesterol levels. Studies show heart disease is actually more deadly in diabetic women than in men. This is most likely due to biological variances in how males and females experience heart attacks. For example, some women do not recognize heart attack warning signs like fatigue and vomiting (which they are more prone to experience than men), and may not seek treatment in time. However, men over 20 actually have a slightly higher rate of diabetes, at nearly 12 percent, compared to women over 20, at almost 11 percent.

5. Forty Million People Over 80 Are Expected to Have Diabetes by 2050.

People 65 years and older have the highest percentage rate of diagnosed diabetes, regardless of other factors like race and sex. On the other hand, the lowest percentage is in people 45 years old and younger. Reasons for high numbers of diabetic diagnosis in the elderly include factors like inadequate nutrition and age-related physical complications. Protein synthesis in the body naturally decreases as people get older, which means muscles will start to resist insulin and intake of amino acids will slow down. Additionally, the inability to prepare home cooked meals can have actually have an effect on the health of the elderly, because they are relying more on prepackaged and usually processed foods. Plus, elderly people often do not receive enough physical activity, due to conditions like arthritis.

6. Diabetes is the Leading Cause of Blindness in 20- to 74-year-olds.5

Advanced diabetic retinopathy can lead to severe vision loss, and is caused by changes in blood vessels of the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye, which is necessary for quality vision.

7. Diabetes Costs the U.S. $245 Billion.

The cost of diagnosed diabetes has risen by more than $71 billion.6 As the numbers of diabetics rapidly increase, the economic impact follows suit. From 2007 to 2012, the American Diabetes Association reported that costs have risen from $174 billion to $245 billion, which shows a more than 40 percent increase in just five years. These costs include all medical expenses, including hospital care, office visits, and other costs like reduced productivity and unemployment linked to diabetes-related disability.

Show 6 References

  1. The defect in glucose uptake by cells (especially the liver and muscles), whether due to type I or type II (different mechanisms), means that the glucose remains in the blood. This chronically “elevated blood glucose” wreaks havoc on various tissues in the body, including nerves, kidneys, blood vessels etc. This ultimately causes death of these tissues over time leading to organ failure, heart attacks, nerve damage, and poor wound healing due to compromised blood flow. Drastically elevated levels, either low or high, can actually induce coma or death.
  2. What Is Diabetes? International Diabetes Federation. 2013.
  3. Diagnosed Diabetes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Data & Trends. 2013.
  4. Gebel, E. How Diabetes Differs For Men and Women. Diabetes Forecast. 2011.
  5. Facts About Diabetic Retinopathy. National Eye Institute. 2013.
  6. American Diabetes Association Releases New Research Estimating Annual Cost of Diabetes at $245 Billion. Press, Diabetes Association. 2013.


  • Tom Daniel says:

    Thanks for the informative blog. Found I had diabetes 4 years ago. This was very beneficial.

  • Laura says:

    Insulin resistance and type II diabetes are the measurable outcomes of a long and chronic disease process that is undiagnosed in a large percentage of the American population. Often in the case of undiagnosed insulin resistance, an individual's tissues cannot respond to normal circulating levels of insulin resulting in a transient spike in blood glucose following meals; however, the insulin-secreting cells sense this error and secrete additional insulin to drive glucose into cells. In this case, a person will not have symptoms and a standard fasting blood glucose test will appear normal. Despite a normal fasting blood glucose level, it is thought that these transient bouts of high blood glucose are deleterious to tissues. Additionally, the higher-than-normal levels of circulating insulin are thought to increase the risk of diseases such as cancer.

    It is well understood that a lack of physical activity, a hypercaloric diet and high body fat all increase the risk for insulin resistance and type II diabetes; however additional new data demonstrate that the simple act of sitting increases the risk of insulin resistance. Studies using healthy individuals have found that sitting for prolonged periods of time (desk jockey) acutely increase insulin resistance and glucose intolerance. These study participants were healthy! More concerning, daily exercise does not combat the negative effects of prolonged sitting. There is good news though; simply standing, stretching and going for a very short walk approximately every half-hour prevents these negative consequences. Exercise has several health benefits and should be enjoyed by all, but it is also important to recognize that prolonged inactivity is associated with its own negative consequences. Please enjoy some movement of all types throughout the entire day!