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If Current Trends Continue, One in Three Adults Will Have Diabetes by 2050

Terri Malecek, RN, CNS, ACMC-Marshall, Diabetic Education

If current diabetes trends continue, the number of people in the U.S. who will have diabetes will triple. This means that one in three adults will have diabetes. Take a second for that to sink in. One in three adults.

Currently, one in ten people in the United States has diabetes—that's about 26-million people—and a quarter of them don't even know they have it. That's almost double the number of people with diabetes in the last ten years. Furthermore, 79-million people have pre-diabetes.

ACMC serves a region of more than 128,000 people. Given current diabetes trends, this would mean there are approximately 12,800 people with diabetes and 3,200 don't even know they have diabetes.

It's an alarming trend. A trend that is, in part, a direct result of lifestyle changes in today's society.

Why the alarming increase in diabetes?

People lead more sedentary lifestyles and eat more convenience foods like chips, sodas and take-out foods. The combination of decreased activity and intake of higher carbohydrate and fatty foods leads to weight gain, which in turn leads to obesity. Type 2 diabetes, which is the most common form of diabetes, can be triggered by a combination of controllable factors like obesity and inactivity and uncontrollable factors like family history and race.

The growth of minority populations—African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and certain Asians and Pacific Islanders are more susceptible to diabetes—and aging populations are expected to contribute to the disease's prevalence. The percentage of people age 65 and older with diabetes is expected to increase because as you age the body's ability to use insulin gradually declines; however, this insulin decline can be slowed.

What are the signs of diabetes?

People are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes earlier in their lives and living to be older which means they have a longer period of their lives that they are living with diabetes. The longer a person has diabetes, the more likely complications from the disease may result. Many people will have diabetes for several years before they even know they have it. Signs of diabetes typically include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Increased hunger
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Cuts and sores that do not heal
  • Dry or itchy skin
  • Infections that don't heal or keep coming back
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands, legs or feet

Many people have no signs of diabetes. If you think you may have diabetes, ask your healthcare provider to do a diabetes screening test.

What is the risk of diabetes?

Those with diabetes are at risk for a variety of health complications like heart disease, eye disease, kidney disease, nerve damage, limb amputations and more. When a person with diabetes doesn't properly care for their health, damage to their body's systems may start to happen. Many of these complications are irreversible once they start. At this point, the goal is twofold: to treat the symptoms and to try to stop the damage from worsening.

Once you've been diagnosed with the disease of diabetes, it's important to educate yourself. Research proves the more educated you are about diabetes, the better job you will do taking care of yourself and managing it. Working with your primary care provider is important, but visiting with a diabetes education team is also essential. Diabetes educators are trained to teach you about the disease and to assist you with making goals for lifestyle improvement from the food you eat to incorporating purposeful activity in your life. They will also help you learn about at home blood glucose testing and about the diabetes medications that you are taking.

What can be done to prevent diabetes?

Diabetes can be prevented or at least delayed for a number of years. With or without a family history of diabetes, people need to take care of their health. Small lifestyle changes like establishing healthy eating habits, such as eating three balanced meals a day, and working out—typically 150 minutes of purposeful activity each week—can play a big role in preventing diabetes. But it is also important to be aware of what is going on in your body.

Fortunately diabetes can be prevented by making smart choices that are good for your health. Don't wait until you think you might have diabetes to make this change You can begin to make small changes to live a healthier lifestyle today. Your body will thank you for it.