Diabetes nation

More than 1 out of 2 Americans will have diabetes – or be on the verge of acquiring it – and account for about 10 percent of health-care spending by 2020.

If current trends continue, 1 out of 3 U.S. children born in 2000 will develop diabetes during their lifetime. The risk rises to 2 out of 5 for black and Hispanic children, and 1 out of 2 for Hispanic girls.

The disease currently affects about 26 million Americans – and more than 1 out of 4 over age 65. It is one of the fastest-growing diseases in the U.S. is expected to cost a half trillion dollars annually by the end of the decade.

Medicare spends about $1 out of every $3 on people with diabetes. According to insurer UnitedHealthcare, the average annual health-care costs in 2009 for those with diagnosed diabetes was $11, 700, compared with $4,400 for those without the disease. A 2009 study of medical bankruptcy cases found that diabetes left patients with an average of more than $27,000 in accumulated out-of-pocket expenses — exceeded only by those with multiple sclerosis.

An estimated 67 million have prediabetes, most of whom do not have symptoms and are unaware of their condition. People with prediabetes often have a collection of risk factors, known as metabolic syndrome, elevate the chance of acquiring diabetes and heart disease. The risk factors include excess abdominal fat, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, low levels of good cholesterol and high triglycerides. About 1 out of 3 U.S. adults have metabolic syndrome.

Diabetes is sometimes called a “gateway” disease because it often leads to heart and kidney disease, and arthritis. People with diabetes are 2-4 times more likely to have a stroke or die of heart disease.

Despite its prevalence, most Americans do not perceive how diabetes jeopardizes health. Nearly 1 out of 2 fear cancer as a health problem, compared with only 3 percent say they worry about diabetes. About 10 percent of Americans develop diabetes, compared with 6 percent who get cancer.

There are two types of diabetes.  Type 1 diabetes develops when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys pancreatic beta cells, the only cells in the body that make insulin.  Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar.  People with type 1 diabetes, who comprise 10 percent of diabetes cases, develop it as children and must have insulin delivered by injection or a pump.  Type 2 diabetes usually begins with insulin resistance, when cells do not use insulin properly.  As the need for insulin rises, the pancreas gradually loses its ability to produce it. It is controlled by insulin and drugs, as well as diet and exercise.

Diabetes is irreversible once it occurs. However, it can be delayed or avoided with a combination of good health habits. Those who exercise, have a healthy diet, drink moderately and maintain a normal weight have an 89 percent lower incidence of diabetes.