A new report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the number of Americans with diabetes continues to rise, with over 12% of the adult population estimated to have the disease, and more than a third of those aged 20 and over in the US now thought to have prediabetes.

Describing the new figures as “alarming,” Dr. Ann Allbright, director of the federal agency’s Division of Diabetes Translation, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, says they “underscore the need for an increased focus on reducing the burden of diabetes in our country.”

Based on health data from 2012, the new National Diabetes Statistics Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that cases of diabetes and prediabetes continue to rise among all ages and ethnic groups.

There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. Type 1 develops when the immune system destroys pancreatic beta cells – the only cells in the body that make insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar. People with type 1 diabetes need to receive regular insulin via injection or pump. Type 1 diabetes usually strikes children and young adults and accounts for around 5% of diabetes in the adult population.

The other 90-95% of diagnosed diabetes cases in the US adult population is of type 2, which usually starts as insulin resistance, where cells cannot use insulin properly, and eventually the pancreas loses its ability to make it.

In 2010, there were 26 million people in the US with diabetes – the new CDC report shows this has gone up to 29.1 million. Moreover, 25% of people – or 1 in 4 – do not realize they have the disease, which increases risk of serious complications including heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure, amputation of toes, feet or legs, and early death.

The CDC figures show that in 2012 alone, 1.7 million Americans aged 20 and over were newly diagnosed with diabetes and 208,000 people under the age of 20 have either type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

The report says 86 million adult Americans – more than 1 in 3 – have prediabetes, where blood sugar is higher than normal but not high enough to be classed as type 2 diabetes.

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Total cost in medical bills and lost work and wages due to diabetes and related complications is at $245 billion, up from $174 billion in 2010.

Without weight loss and exercise, prediabetes develops into full-blown type 2 diabetes in 15-30% of cases within 5 years.

The proportion of US adults aged 20 and over with prediabetes is similar across the main ethnic groups: 39% of non-Hispanic blacks, 38% of Hispanics, and 35% of non-Hispanic whites are estimated to have prediabetes.

The report also estimates that the total cost in medical bills and lost work and wages due to diabetes and related complications adds up to $245 billion, up from $174 billion in 2010.

“Diabetes is costly in both human and economic terms,” says Dr. Allbright. “It’s urgent that we take swift action to effectively treat and prevent this serious disease.”

If these numbers continue to rise, then 1 in 5 of Americans will have diabetes by 2025, and 1 in 3 by 2050, she warns, adding that:

We simply can’t sustain this trajectory – the implications are far too great – for our families, our healthcare system, our workforce, our nation.”

She says we already know that the most effective way to prevent type 2 diabetes is to adopt a healthier lifestyle, and it also improves health in those already with the disease.

“The sooner people find out they have prediabetes and take action, the better their chances of preventing type 2 diabetes,” she adds, and suggests the CDC’s National Diabetes Prevention Program is a good example of how to help people change their lifestyle for the benefit of their health.

Meanwhile, Medical News Today recently reported how cases of type 1 and type 2 diabetes are rising among young Americans. A large JAMA study of data from over 3 million American children and adolescents found a significant increase in both types of diabetes between 2001 and 2009.