Around 40% of the adult US population - 2 in every 5 adults - are expected to develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime.
Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90-95% of all diabetes cases in the US. Onset occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin, or the insulin that is produced does not function properly, causing abnormal blood glucose levels.
Diabetes prevalence has increased in recent years. In 2010, 25.8 million Americans had the condition, and this rose to 29.1 million by 2012.
However, the research team - led by Dr. Edward Gregg, chief of the Epidemiology and Statistics Branch, Division of Diabetes Translation at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - notes that the mortality rate in US populations with and without diabetes has declined.
"The simultaneous changes in incidence and mortality warrant re-examination of lifetime risk of diabetes and life-years lost due to diabetes," say the researchers.
Lifetime risk of type 2 diabetes rises to 40% over 26 years
With this in mind, Dr. Gregg and colleagues analyzed data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), which disclosed diabetes incidence in the US from 1985 to 2011. In addition, they assessed the death certificates of 598,216 adults.
All information was used to estimate the lifetime risk of diabetes in the US, as well as years of life lost to the condition.
The team found that for an average 20-year-old American, the lifetime risk of developing type 2 diabetes increased from 20% in 1985-89 to 40% in 2000-11 for men, while lifetime risk for women increased from 27% to 39%.
Hispanic men and women, and non-Hispanic black women saw the highest increase; they now have a 50% chance of developing type 2 diabetes in their lifetime.
The researchers found that the years of life lost to diabetes reduced during the 26-year study period. The number of life-years lost for men diagnosed with diabetes at age 40 declined from 7.7 years in 1990-99 to 5.8 years in 2000-11, while the number of life-years lost for women reduced from 8.7 years to 6.8 years.
"However," notes Dr. Gregg, "the overwhelming increase in diabetes prevalence has resulted in an almost 50% increase in the cumulative number of years of life lost to diabetes for the population as a whole: years spent living with diabetes have increased by 156% in men and 70% in women."
"As the number of diabetes cases continue to increase and patients live longer, there will be a growing demand for health services and extensive costs. More effective lifestyle interventions are urgently needed to reduce the number of new cases in the US and other developed nations."
In an editorial linked to the study, Dr. Lorraine Lipscombe, of Women's College Hospital and the University of Toronto, Canada, agrees that prevention strategies are needed to reduce incidence of type 2 diabetes, but she says "only a population-based approach to prevention can address a problem of this magnitude."
"Prevention strategies should include optimization of urban planning, food-marketing policies, and work and school environments that enable individuals to make healthier lifestyle choices," she adds.
"With an increased focus on interventions aimed at children and their families, there might still be time to change the fate of our future generations by lowering their risk of type 2 diabetes."
Last month, Medical News Today reported on a study published in The Lancet, which claimed insulin pumps are more effective than injections for treating type 2 diabetes.