The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a startling new projection last week regarding diabetes: As many as one in three U.S. adults could have diabetes by 2050. The announcement on Friday represents a dramatic threefold increase in the number of Americans expected to have diabetes within the next 40 years if current trends continue.
Current estimates place the number of people with diabetes at around 24 million, which is one in 10 Americans, but the number could grow to one in five or even one in three by mid-century, according to officials.
“This is alarming,” said Ann Albright, director of the CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation.
The CDC has been working on such projections for some time now, with various estimates being released based on current trends. The last revision put the number at 39 million by 2050. This new estimate takes it to the range of 76 to 100 million, a dramatic increase.
Edward W. Gregg, chief of the CDC branch that handles diabetes epidemiology and statistics, explained that three main factors contributed to the increased numbers. First, the new estimate includes people who have diabetes but remain undiagnosed-a group that wasn’t figured into earlier estimates. Second, the researchers included new population growth estimates for the elderly and minorities, who have higher rates of type 2 diabetes. Third, diabetics are living longer, thanks to improvements in medical care. A longer life span means that more people are living with diabetes at any one time. As Dr. Sue Kirkman stated in response to the CDC’s latest news, “Not all of the increase in prevalence is a bad thing.” Dr. Kirkman is the American Diabetes Association’s senior vice president of medical affairs and community information.
Another factor is obesity rates among Americans. Type 2 diabetes is most common in people who are overweight and obese, in people 60 and older, and in African-Americans and other minority groups. The growth in U.S. diabetes cases has been closely tied to escalating obesity rates, another trend that the CDC has been monitoring closely. Recent CDC data suggest that obesity rates may have recently leveled off. But the new diabetes estimates should hold up even if obesity rates remain static, according to the CDC.
The reality is that diabetes will continue to grow if people do not do more to prevent it, especially as the population ages and obesity continues to grow. While the new numbers are startling, they will hopefully be a wake-up call.
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