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Aug 26, 2014

Estimated 40% of Americans to Develop Diabetes in Their Lifetime

Diabetes is much more common than it was decades ago, leaving experts to estimate that two in five U.S. adults will develop the disease.

Nearly half of the adult U.S. population is expected to develop diabetes at some point in their life, according to a recent study published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology

Led by investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this 26-year study tapped into national health data to estimate lifetime diabetes risk in the United States from 1985 to 2011. Diabetes is much more common than it was decades ago, leading experts to wonder just how likely it is for Americans today to develop diabetes during their lifetime. 

Using health surveys and death certificates from nearly 600,000 adults, researchers found that Americans are as much as 20% more likely to develop diabetes in their lifetime than 30 years ago. Based on the latest data, researchers now estimate that roughly 40% of men and women will develop diabetes in their lifetime and risk is even greater for minorities. 

The good news, however, is that patients with diabetes are living longer than ever before. During the 1990s, it was estimated that diabetes shortened people’s lives by roughly 8 years. Through improved diagnosis and treatment, individuals now lose fewer years from diabetes compared to just 20 years ago. 

Coincidentally, this study was published on the heels of a recent statement from the American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association regarding diabetes and heart disease. Published in the medical journal Circulation, this paper addresses the lack of medical knowledge around type 1 diabetes and heart disease. Although it’s well established that diabetes drastically increases risk for heart disease, most research is focused on type 2 diabetes—the most common type of diabetes that affects nearly 25 million Americans. The goal of this statement was to not only outline best practices for heart disease prevention in patients with type 1 diabetes, but also highlight the need for additional research on this issue. 

Since nearly half of Americans are now expected to develop diabetes in their lifetime, it’s important to prevent serious complications associated with the condition, like heart disease. Adults with diabetes are anywhere from 2-4 times more likely to die from heart disease than those without heart disease. Through healthy lifestyle choices and proper treatment, adults with diabetes can help reduce their risk for heart disease. And through knowledge gained by future research on type 1 and 2 diabetes, patients with diabetes can continue to live longer, healthier lives.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is diabetes?
  • Diabetes refers to a group of diseases that cause high blood sugar, either because the body can’t produce enough insulin or the body doesn’t respond to insulin properly (or both). There are three main types of diabetes: type 1 diabetes (occurs when the pancreas stops making insulin), type 2 diabetes (occurs when the body doesn’t use or make insulin the way it should) and gestational diabetes (diabetes that occurs during pregnancy). Also, prediabetes is a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes.
  • How can I prevent type 2 diabetes?

  • Although unknown exactly why some individuals develop type 2 diabetes and some don’t, there are some known risk factors for this condition, like being overweight and inactive. There are also risk factors that can’t be controlled, such as family history, age and race.


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