40% of Americans Will Develop Diabetes: CDC
Rates for black women and Hispanics even higher at 50 percent
The "diabesity" epidemic is the main driver of these increased risks, said Dr. Minisha Sood, an endocrinologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
Doctors have coined the term "diabesity" to reflect the combined effects of the diabetes and obesity epidemics. "They go hand-in hand," she said.
People also are living longer, which makes them more likely to develop diabetes at some point during their lives given the lack of exercise and eating habits of the average American, Gregg and Sood said.
Not all the news from the study was bad -- the researchers found that people with type 2 diabetes are living longer than in the past. The CDC researchers estimated that the number of years lost to a diabetes patient diagnosed at age 40 decreased from nearly 8 years in the 1990s to about 6 years in the 2000s for men, and from almost 9 years to just under 7 years for women.
People with type 2 diabetes are living longer due to better medications and treatments for both the disease and its complications, which range from loss of vision and nerve damage to kidney failure and heart disease, Gregg said.
"Even after people develop complications of diabetes that used to increase risk of death, there are so many ways to keep people alive longer these days," he said.
The impact on society will be immense as more Americans end up living longer with diabetes, Sood predicts.
"It's rendering people incapable of enjoying a good quality of life. It's raising health care costs at an alarming rate. And frankly, there aren't enough health care professionals to deal with what's coming down the pike," Sood said. "We're looking at clogging up a health care system that's already stretched to its limits."
But Gregg suggested that this gloomy picture can change with effective efforts to combat obesity and diabetes. "If prevention efforts take hold, then the equation for lifetime risk will change pretty quickly," he said.
But quick-fix solutions such as weight-loss surgery won't cut it, he added.
"The thing that's going to have the biggest effect is if people with multiple risk factors can make sustained changes in their lifestyles," Gregg said. "Weight-loss surgery is an option for some and it is highly effective, but that's not going to be the solution for the large number of people at risk for diabetes."
Doctors, public health officials and other health care advocates need to figure out better ways to guide busy Americans to a healthier way of living, Sood said. That includes taking time to exercise nearly every day, eat right, and get good sleep.