One third of Americans may be on their way to developing full-blown type 2 diabetes, and most of them don't even know it.
A recent report from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that more than 84 million Americans, or roughly one-third of the population, have prediabetes, a condition marked by higher-than-normal blood sugar. Of that group, 90 percent aren't aware they have the condition.
The primary risk factors for type 2 diabetes are genetics and lifestyle — excess weight, obesity and lack of exercise contribute to this alarming medical trend. "People with prediabetes who don't change their lifestyle are at a much higher risk of developing heart disease and stroke and can develop type 2 diabetes within five years if left untreated," said William T. Cefalu, MD, chief scientific, medical & mission officer of the American Diabetes Association.
The health risks go beyond heart disease and stroke. As diabetes worsens over time, blindness, kidney disease and lower-limb amputation are also major health risks. Diabetes was the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States in 2015, according to the CDC. This population of diabetes "ticking time bombs" is particularly alarming, because in many cases type 2 diabetes can be avoided, simply by leading a healthy lifestyle. Type 2 diabetes is often progressive, and within 10 years of diagnosis, 50 percent of individuals need to use insulin to control their blood glucose levels, according to the ADA.
More than 30 million Americans — 9.4 percent of the U.S. population — are already battling diabetes, according to the CDC's National Diabetes Statistics Report, which used data through 2015. The CDC found that of those cases, 7.2 million were undiagnosed.
"The country needs to take this seriously, ratchet it up and make it a priority," said Ann Albright, PhD, RD, director of CDC's Division of Diabetes Translation. "Far too few people know about it or know they have it, and that is why we launched the prevention program and joined forces with other organizations," she said. "It requires us all to take this condition seriously."