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One in Three Kids Will Develop Diabetes

But Simple Lifestyle Changes Could Help Change 'Dire Prediction'

WebMD Health News

June 16, 2003 (New Orleans) - One in three American children born in 2000 will develop diabetes if they adopt the nation's inactive and overeating lifestyle, according to a new government report.

For Hispanic children, the odds are even worse: About one in two will develop the disease, says K.M. Venkat Narayan, MD, chief of the diabetes epidemiology section at the CDC Atlanta.

"We knew that the diabetes rate was increasing, but this finding was dramatic even to us," Narayan reported here this weekend at the American Diabetes Association's63rd Annual Scientific Sessions. The projected lifetime risk is about three times higher than the American Diabetes Association's current estimate, he says.

"What was most astonishing was that even at age 60, a person still has a one in five chance of developing diabetes during his or her lifetime," Narayan says.

The findings are particularly alarming given that diabetes can lead to a host of severely debilitating and even fatal complications, he says.

Two in three people with diabetes will develop heart disease, while others will go blind, get kidney failure, and require amputations. Diabetes is the fifth-leading cause of death by disease in the U.S.

What makes the predictions especially ominous is that all the major risk factors for developing diabetes are already on the rise in the U.S., says Judith Fradkin, MD, director of diabetes, endocrinology and metabolic diseases at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseasesin Bethesda, Md.

"As a nation, we're older, heavier, and more sedentary than ever before," she says.

The good news, Fradkin says, is that "the dire predictions do not have to come to fruition."

The predictions are based on what will happen if Americans do nothing about changing their inactive habits, she explains.

But a landmark study out last year showed that modest changes -- shedding about 10 to 15 pounds and taking a brisk walk 30 minutes a day, five days a week -- can slash the risk of developing diabetes by more than half, Fradkin says.

A Growing Epidemic

Even before Narayan presented the latest report, government officials were worried about a growing epidemic of diabetes in the U.S.

From the 1960s to the 1990s, the number of cases tripled. Then, in the past decade, the number of cases rose by nearly 50%, hitting the 11 million mark in 2000, Narayan says.

Currently, more than 17 million Americans, or about 6% of the U.S. population, have diabetes. And by 2050, that number will shoot up to 29 million, Narayan predicted in a previous study.

The new report, which Narayan says is the first to look at the lifetime risk of developing diabetes, shows:

  • Overall, 33% of boys and 39% of girls born in 2000 will develop diabetes.
  • When it comes to Hispanic children, 45% of males and 53% of females will develop diabetes.
  • Black boys and girls stand a 40% and 45% risk of developing diabetes in their lifetimes, respectively, while for white boys and girls, the comparable figures are 27% and 31%.
  • A man diagnosed with diabetes at age 40 will die 12 years sooner than he would have had he not developed the disease, while a woman diagnosed at that age will have 14 years shaved off her lifespan.
  • The average risk of a 70-year-old American developing diabetes is one in 10, about the same as his or her risk of developing dementia.
  • The average age at diagnosis ranged from a low of 56 years for blacks to a high of 59 years for whites.

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One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

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