According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. The CDC defines diabetes as “a chronic (long-lasting) health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy.” When the human body digests food, most of the food digested is broken down into sugar. The increase of blood sugar in the body tells it to release insulin, which lets sugar into the body’s blood cells. When a person has diabetes, their body either lacks insulin or does not use it optimally.
There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is usually found in children, teens and young adults. With type 1 diabetes, the body produces little to no insulin and needs daily insulin doses to function. Type 2 diabetes is more common in adults, and 90-95% of people with diabetes have this type. With type 2 diabetes, the body does not make good use of the insulin it processes. Gestational diabetes occurs in bodies with high glucose during pregnancy. It usually goes away after the baby is born, but it increases the baby’s chance of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
According to the CDC, more than 1 in 3 adults in the United States have prediabetes. Prediabetes is a health condition in which the body’s blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes.
The 2022 National Diabetes Statistics Report estimated that more than 37.3 million people are currently living with diabetes worldwide. In the U.S., the prevalence of diabetes has significantly increased recently. 11.3% of the United States population now has diabetes, and it is predicted that that population is 96 million U.S. adults.
“More than 37.3 million Americans have diabetes, and 1 in 5 don’t know they have the disease; that’s close to 8.5 million people in this country,” said Dr. Robert Gabbay, American Diabetes Association’s (ADA) Chief Scientist and Medical Officer. “More than 96 million Americans have prediabetes (38% of the U.S. population), and 8 in 10 of them don’t know they have prediabetes. With close to 1.4 million Americans being newly diagnosed with diabetes each year, we clearly have more work to do.
“Because of these shocking numbers, it’s critical for Americans to learn their prediabetes risk, be screened regularly, and take the steps necessary to delay or prevent type 2 diabetes,” said Gabbay. “Many people with diabetes may not have any symptoms and therefore don’t know they need to get checked. That’s why the ADA has established a risk test people can take, and everyone should be screened with a blood test starting at age 45 and younger if they are at higher risk.”
Health inequity is widespread in the U.S., and diabetes is not exempt. People of color are more likely to experience this inequity. African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic whites. African Americans are also 2.3 times more likely to die from diabetes than whites.
“Inequity systemically harms people of color,” said Gabbay. “The COVID-19 pandemic and glaring examples of racial injustice are casting a bright light on an old problem in America. Health inequity is obvious and widespread. It contributes to worse outcomes and higher risk for diabetes and many other diseases. And it undermines the well-being of our most underserved communities. The American Diabetes Association has made breaking down these health inequities barriers a priority through our Health Equity Now initiative.”
People lower on the socioeconomic status (SES) ladder are also more likely to develop diabetes. They are also more likely to experience complications than those higher on the SES ladder.
There are currently no known ways to prevent type 1 or gestational diabetes, but type 2 diabetes can be prevented by living a healthy lifestyle. Although there is no known cure for diabetes, eating healthily, being active, and taking the right medicine can reduce its impact on someone’s life.