March 28, 2002 -- The threat of an epidemic of diabetes is now so great that the U.S. government has created a whole new condition for those at risk, called "pre-diabetes." Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson warns that nearly 16 million Americans may suffer from the condition that sharply raises the risk for developing type 2 diabetes and increases the risk of heart disease by 50%.
Research shows that most people with pre-diabetes will develop diabetes within a decade unless they make changes in their lifestyle, such as eating a healthier diet and becoming more physically active.
Type 2 diabetes was previously called adult-onset diabetes. In recent years, however, the number of children and adolescents with this type of diabetes has grown -- largely due to the growing number of overweight youngsters.
"The good news is that if you have pre-diabetes, you can do something about it," says Thompson in a news release. "We want people to know that pre-diabetes is a serious condition that can be reversed or alleviated with modest changes in their daily routines -- such as eating fewer calories and walking regularly for exercise."
Thompson also announced new recommendations about pre-diabetes from a panel including members of the American Diabetes Association. They call for doctors to begin screening overweight patients over age 45 for pre-diabetes.
According to the panel, the new term describes an increasingly common condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not yet diabetic -- a condition known among doctors as impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glucose. Having blood sugar levels in the pre-diabetes range increases the risk of heart attack or stroke by 50%.
The panel also recommends that doctors consider testing overweight people younger than 45 during regular office visits, especially if they are significantly overweight and have one or more of the following risk factors:
- Family history of diabetes
- Low HDL "good" cholesterol and high triglycerides (another type of blood fat)
- High blood pressure
- History of diabetes during pregnancy or gave birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
- Belong to a minority group at increased risk for type 2 diabetes (such as blacks, native Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and Pacific Islanders)
Prescription drugs are generally not recommended as initial treatment for people with pre-diabetes. Studies have shown that the risk of developing type 2 diabetes can be delayed or prevented through modest lifestyle improvements. But studies have also shown that the diabetes drug Glucophage can help prevent pre-diabetes from becoming full-blown diabetes.
New estimates released by Health and Human Services show that the number of Americans who suffer from diabetes has grown by 8% to 17 million, based on updated U.S. census figures.