What's Behind the Increased Number of Diabetics in the US?

Americans are experiencing symptoms of diabetes at alarming rate

Author: Christin Sander, Health Writer

Instances of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are on the rise in the US. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the number of Americans with diabetes reached almost 26 million in 2011, with more than a third of adults, approximately 79 million, estimated to be prediabetic. The CDC has stated that if current trends continue, one in three adults could have diabetes by 2050.

More than 90 percent of diabetes cases in the US are the type 2 variety. Type 2 diabetes is a highly preventable, potentially life-threatening illness caused by improper lifestyle choices. In type 2 diabetes, the body gradually loses its ability to produce and use insulin effectively. Over time, diabetes that is mismanaged or not treated properly can cause many other health problems and even death. Diabetes is now the seventh leading cause of death in the US.  

There is no cure for diabetes, but type 2 can be prevented and even reversed with lifestyle modifications. Type 2 diabetes typically starts in adulthood, however in recent years there has been a dramatic rise in teenage obesity, leading to earlier diagnosis of diabetes.

So what is causing the alarming trend in diabetes in the US? There are several factors that contribute, including sedentary lifestyles, poor diet and nutrition habits, obesity and exposure to toxic chemicals.

Sedentary Lifestyles and Lack of Regular Exercise

Studies have linked sedentary lifestyles and lack of regular exercise to increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Too much sitting in the office or at home prevents the body from working properly. With regular exercise, excess glucose is pulled from the bloodstream and sent to the muscles where it's used for energy. Exercise also keeps blood sugar levels steady, helps insulin to work more effectively and prevents obesity, another major risk factor.


Obesity and diabetes go hand in hand. As the obesity rates in the US have steadily risen, so have the instances of type 2 diabetes. Between 80 and 90 percent of diabetes patients are also diagnosed as overweight or obese. Excess weight stresses the body, making it difficult to maintain proper blood glucose levels. In time, this leads to insulin resistance which is the precursor to diabetes.

Fortunately, losing just five to ten percent of your body weight can greatly decrease the risk of getting diabetes.

Poor Nutrition

The standard US diet is loaded with processed foods that are calorie dense but nutritionally deficient. A diet high in fat, refined carbohydrates and sugar is the leading cause of type 2 diabetes.

Processed, simple carbohydrates like soda, cakes, cookies, candy and even many fruit juices spike blood sugar levels, causing a flood of insulin to pour into the bloodstream. After this rush of insulin, there is a resulting crash that depletes energy and tends to lead to more cravings for sugar and simple carbohydrates. This becomes a vicious cycle that leads to excess calorie consumption, weight gain, insulin resistance and eventually diabetes.

Exposure to Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals

Another risk factor for diabetes is exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals like BPA, a common ingredient in plastic and the linings of canned foods. Even minimal exposure has been shown to have adverse effects. Small amounts of these chemicals can trick the pancreas into producing excess insulin. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, chemicals like BPA act as “obesogens”, altering the body's metabolism and making it more difficult to lose weight even with diet and exercise.

There are many factors that contribute to diabetes. Fortunately, with some lifestyle changes and adjustments, diabetes is highly preventable.

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