Insulin is a hormone that takes sugar from foods and moves it to the body's cells. If the body does not make enough insulin or does not use insulin well, the sugar from food stays in the blood and causes high blood sugar.
There are several different types of diabetes, but the most common is type 2. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Diabetes Report, 2014, 90 to 95 percent of people with diabetes in the United States have type 2. Just 5 percent of people have type 1.
Contents of this article:
Key facts about diabetes in the U.S.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes.
Diabetes is at an all-time high in the U.S. The CDC's Division of Diabetes Translation states that 1 percent of the population, which is about a half of a million people, had diagnosed diabetes in 1958.
Today, nearly 10 percent of the population have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA). That's 29.1 million Americans, and more than a quarter of these people do not know they have it.
The ADA report that the number of people who have diabetes increased by 382 percent from 1988 to 2014.
The risk of developing diabetes increases with age. The CDC report that 4.1 percent of people age 20-44 have diabetes, but the number jumps to 25.9 percent for people over 65 years old.
As obesity has become more prevalent over the past few decades, so too has the rate of type 2 diabetes. An article in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology states that 25.6 percent of Americans are obese, much higher than the 15.3 percent of obese people in 1995. In that same period, the incidence of diabetes increased by 90 percent.
Although the link between obesity and diabetes is well known, the reasons they are connected remain unclear. A report in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism poses the question of why all obese people do not develop diabetes, given the established link between the two conditions.
The report also states that the location of body fat does play a role. People with more fat in the upper body area and around the waist are more likely to get diabetes than those who carry their body fat around the hips and lower body.
Diabetes and ethnicity
There are clear differences in diabetes rates among different ethnic groups and races. The reasons for these differences are a combination of factors, including:
- health conditions
- access to healthcare
The CDC's National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2014, found:
- 7.6 percent of Non-Hispanic whites aged 20 or older have diabetes
- 9.0 percent of Asian Americans aged 20 or older have diabetes
- 12.8 percent of Hispanics aged 20 or older have diabetes
- 13.2 percent of Non-Hispanic blacks aged 20 or older have diabetes
- 15.9 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives aged 20 or older have diabetes
Why diabetes is serious
Diabetes can have serious health consequences. The ADA's report states that more Americans die from diabetes every year than from AIDS and breast cancer combined. In 2010, diabetes was listed as a cause of death on more than 69,000 death certificates.
However, the CDC report that the actual number may be much higher and that deaths related to diabetes are underreported.
Why and how does diabetes damage the body and cause complications? The ADA say:
- Adults with diabetes are significantly more likely to die from a heart attack or stroke.
- More than a quarter of all Americans with diabetes have diabetic retinopathy, which can cause vision loss and blindness.
- Each year, nearly 50,000 Americans begin treatment for kidney failure due to diabetes. Diabetes accounts for 44 percent of all new cases of kidney failure.
- Each year, diabetes causes about 73,000 lower limb amputations, which accounts for 60 percent of all lower limb amputations (not including amputations due to trauma).
Because of its high prevalence and link to numerous health problems, diabetes has a significant impact on healthcare costs.
The productivity loss for reduced performance at work due to diabetes is 113 million days, or $20.8 billion, according to the ADA.
Diabetes cost the U.S. $245 billion in 2012. But, the ADA believe this number may be lower than the actual cost because it does not include:
- the millions of people who have diabetes but are undiagnosed
- the cost for prevention programs for people with diabetes, which are not counted under standard medical costs
- over-the-counter medications for eye and dental problems, which are more common in people with diabetes.
- administrative costs for insurance claims
- the cost of reduced quality of life, pain and suffering, lost productivity of family members, and other factors that cannot be measured directly
Because diabetes affects various parts of the body, the medical costs span different areas of specialty. The ADA report that:
- 30 percent of medical costs associated with diabetes are for circulation problems that reduce blood flow to the limbs
- 29 percent of medical costs associated with diabetes are for kidney conditions
- 28 percent of medical costs associated with diabetes are for nervous system conditions
Despite its complications, people can manage their diabetes with a comprehensive plan that includes lifestyle changes and proper medical care. If they control their blood sugar levels well, many people with diabetes can lead full, active lives.
Type 1 and type 2: What's the difference?
In type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. As a result, the body does not produce insulin, and people with this condition must take insulin by injection or pump every day.
Type 1 diabetes usually develops in children or young adults, but it can occur at any age. There is no known way to prevent type 1 diabetes, and there is no cure.
People with type 2 diabetes may still have insulin in their bodies, but not enough for proper blood sugar control. Or, the body may not be able to use the insulin it has properly. As a result, blood sugar levels can become too high.
Typically, adults are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, but children can get it too. Certain factors increase a person's risk of getting type 2 diabetes, including:
- older age
- a family history of diabetes
- lack of exercise
- problems with glucose metabolism