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by Robin Allen MSPH, RDN, LDN

Now let’s turn to another chronic disease which is becoming an epidemic in the United States (U.S.) and around the world: type 2 diabetes.  Here are some facts:

In the United States, 29.1 million people have diabetes, 8.1 million of whom may be undiagnosed and unaware of their condition. There have been 1.7 million new cases of diabetes diagnosed in U.S. adults in 2012, and the prevalence of type 2 diabetes is on the rise.  Type 2 diabetes is not only on the rise in the U.S. but all over the world. 

In 2013 the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) reported there were more the 382 million people in the world living with diabetes.  The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the 90% of people with diabetes suffer from type 2 diabetes.  Even though the risk of type 2 diabetes increases with age, the number of children diagnosed with type 2 diabetes is increasing due to a growing number of overweight youth. Men have a slightly increased risk of type 2 diabetes compared to women which appears to be more related to lifestyle factors and body weight than gender.

Pre-diabetes is also on the rise.  Most people develop “pre-diabetes” before developing diabetes.  Pre-diabetes is diagnosed when blood sugar is higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.  In 2012, 86 Million Americans age 20 and older had prediabetes, up from 79 million in 2010.  Diabetes is now the 7th leading cause of death in the U.S.

What is the Cost of Diabetes?

In 2012, $245 billion dollars was spent on diabetes.  Direct medical costs were $176 billion while $69 billion was spent on lost productivity.

Can type 2 diabetes be prevented?

Both type 2 diabetes and its side effects can often be prevented or delayed.  Up to 85 percent of complications associated with type 2 diabetes can be prevented, delayed, or effectively treated with regular visits to a health professional, appropriate monitoring and medication, and a healthy diet and lifestyle. Early identification of complications can help with intervention, education, and referral to a specialist if needed.

  • The Diabetes Prevention Program found that weight loss and increased physical activity reduced the development of type 2 diabetes by 58 percent during a three-year study period. In those age 60 years or older, the reduction was 71 percent.
  • Overweight individuals who lose even five to seven percent of their body weight can effectively prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes.
  • Regular checks and having healthy levels of blood cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and blood sugar significantly reduces your risk of diabetes.
  • The drug Metformin was found to reduce the risk of diabetes onset by 31 %  in ages 25 to 44 years and adults with a body mass index over 35, considered to be pre-diabetic.                  


The problems associated with type 2 diabetes are common and can be severe. Complications include heart disease, stroke, hypertension, blindness and eye problems, kidney disease, nervous system complications, amputations, dental disease, pregnancy complications, and mental health problems, such as depression.

  • WHO states that 50 percent of people with diabetes die of cardiovascular disease, primarily heart disease and stroke.
  • More than 71 percent of U.S. adults with diabetes had hypertension or reported using medication to treat hypertension.
  • There were 7,686 cases of diabetic retinopathy in the United States in 2010.
  • Diabetes is the leading cause of newly diagnosed adult blindness in the United States.
  • Diabetes was the primary cause of kidney failure in 44 percent of all new cases in 2011. It was also reported that 228,924 people began treatment for kidney failure due to diabetes.
  • Seventy percent of diabetic adults suffer a loss of sensation in the extremities which may lead to amputations.  More than 60% of all non-traumatic amputations of lower limbs occur in people with diabetes.
  • Approximately 73,000 lower-limb amputations were performed in diabetics age 20 and older.
  • Uncontrolled gestational diabetes can increase the chance of birth defects, large babies, and other complications that can be dangerous to the baby and the mother.
  • Individuals with diabetes are twice as likely to suffer from depression as individuals without a diabetes diagnosis.
  • Diabetics have twice the risk of death of any cause compared to individuals of the same age without diabetes.


What can Dietitians and health care providers do to help with this epidemic?

Tune into the OneOp Nutrition and Wellness webinar New Medications for Type 2 Diabetes Tuesday, August 25 at 11:00 am EST.


Statistics about Diabetes.  Data from the National Diabetes Statistics Report 2014

Diabetes Prevention Program 

This post was written by Robin Allen, a member of OneOp (MFLN) Nutrition and Wellness team which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families.  Find out more about the OneOp Nutrition and Wellness concentration on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter and on LinkedIn.

Diabetes in the United States infographic from the CDC