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Number of Americans with Diabetes Doubled in 25 Years, Study Found

Glucose level blood test

Most people have heard by now that the United States is in the middle of a large, and growing, diabetes epidemic. A recent review of statistics by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that an astounding 2 out of 5 Americans are expected to get type 2 diabetes at some point in their lives: 40 percent of both men and women.

Certain ethnic groups face even greater odds, according to lead study author Edward Gregg, PhD, of the CDC: half of African American women, and half of Hispanic men and women are projected to develop type 2 diabetes during their lives. (Previous studies have found that Native Americans and Asian Americans are also at increased risk for developing the disease.)

The study did not separate diabetes by type, but 90 to 95 percent of all people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes, according to the CDC. Type 2 diabetes is when the body does not produce enough insulin or resists the effects of insulin, or both. Insulin is a hormone that is necessary to break down food carbohydrates into sugars, so that the body’s cells can use the sugars for energy.

Obesity is a risk factor for diabetes, and so is lack of physical activity. The growing numbers of Americans who are obese and those who don’t exercise, combined with increased life expectancy, are fueling the diabetes epidemic.

For the above study, researchers examined medical records and death certificates for about 600,000 adults between 1985 and 2011; they used the data to measure trends in diabetes risk, as well as years of life lost to the illness.

In the 25-year period, the average 20-year-old man’s lifetime risk for type 2 diabetes jumped from almost 21 percent in the 1980’s, to slightly more than 40 percent in 2011. The risk for the average 20-year-old woman increased from 27 percent in the 1980’s to almost 40 percent in 2011.

Life expectancy for people with type 2 diabetes was found to have increased some recently: while a man diagnosed with diabetes in the 1990’s was estimated to lose 8 years to the disease, that number had decreased to 6 years in the 2000’s; for women, the number decreased from almost 9 years to less than 7 years.

Results of the study were published online recently in the journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.

Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes

In addition to obesity and inactivity, the following are risk factors for the disease:

  1. Genetics: if you have a parent or sibling with diabetes, your chances of getting it are higher. However, you can adopt healthy lifestyle choices, such as eating a lot of produce and whole grains, and exercising often, to lower your risk. Note: if you haven’t done any type of exercise in a long time, it’s essential to start out slowly. Walking is an excellent, and often underestimated way to get in shape and burn a lot of calories. Start by walking at a normal pace for a couple of weeks, then increase your walking speed and distance gradually, over time
  2. You have prediabetes: this is when your fasting blood sugar level is above normal, but not in the diabetic range. People are often successful at keeping prediabetes from becoming diabetes by starting exercise programs and by losing excess weight
  3. You have fat around the waist: abdominal fat is particularly linked to a greater risk of diabetes. That said, you don’t have to be overweight or have belly fat, to get diabetes
  4. Cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, low good cholesterol and high bad cholesterol are all risks for diabetes
  5. Age: risk of diabetes increases with age; if you’re 45 or older, you may be at higher risk

Great, Healthy Foods, to Avoid Blood Sugar Spikes

Eating healthy foods and making the calories that we consume count is very smart for all of us to do. But if you have risks for diabetes or are a diabetic, it is all the more important for you to choose your foods wisely. Choose:

  • Lots of vegetables, including dark-green leafy ones like spinach, kale and collard greens; these are packed with important nutrients, including antioxidants and folate
  • Sweet potatoes: they have a lower glycemic index (the increase in blood sugar after eating a particular food) than regular potatoes and are highly nutritious
  • Whole grains, whether they be in the cereals or breads that you eat. Read ingredient labels to insure the fewest ingredients, and no artificial preservatives
  • Beans: highly nutritious, high in iron, lean protein, low glycemic index
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Lean, unprocessed meats and heart-healthy fish (opt for steamed or baked fish, instead of battered, fried fish)

Great, filling snacking choices for you are:

Nuts, seeds, chopped raw vegetables and fruits such as oranges and grapefruits — all these are high in nutrition, as well as dietary fiber that will make you feel fuller. Low-fat cottage cheese and chopped fruit is another great, filling choice.

And instead of reaching for sodas (or worse yet, diet sodas), try mixing 3-4 oz of fruit juice with 10-12 oz of water or carbonated water, for a refreshing, natural, low-sugar beverage.

By Jamell Andrews

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