Diabetes: The Rising Epidemic

May 7, 2019


Diabetes has reached epidemic proportions, in both the United States and worldwide. More people are living with this disease than ever before in human history.

And that epidemic has far-ranging consequences for not only the personal health of millions, but even the strength of our economy and even our society.

Don’t believe us? Let’s look at some contemporary statistics.

Diabetes Today

The data about diabetes today is sobering, to say the least.

First, let’s talk how many people have it, or are at risk:

  • It’s estimated that more than 30 million Americans have diabetes. That’s about 9.4 percent of us—almost one in ten.
  • Out of those 30 million, about 7 million don’t even know they have it—almost a quarter of the total.
  • Already, 1 in 4 seniors over age 65 have diabetes.

On top of that, you can add another 84 million Americans who are believed to have prediabetes—about 90 percent of whom are undiagnosed. Prediabetes is a health condition where blood sugar levels are elevated, but not quite enough for a diabetes diagnosis.

If you already have prediabetes, you are extremely likely to eventually develop diabetes if you don’t make changes to your lifestyle. And sugar is still doing damage to your nerves and circulatory health—you don’t need a full-blown diabetes diagnosis for high blood sugar to be toxic.

And that’s a good segue into some more statistics—this time about just why diabetes poses such a threat:

  • About 1 in 4 people with diabetes will develop at least one serious foot ulcer in their lifetime—and those who develop one are highly likely to develop more.
  • As many as 1 in 7 diabetic ulcers don’t heal, which significantly increase the risk of infection and, ultimately, amputation.
  • In fact, there are now almost 100,000 lower limb amputations performed in the United States alone, every year, due to complications for a diabetic wound.
  • Diabetes is the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States. It’s listed as the primary cause in about 80,000 deaths per year, and a contributing cause in more than 250,000. And those figures are almost certainly under-reported.
  • Medical care for people with diabetes now accounts for about a quarter of all health care spending in the United States. In fact, the average cost for a person with diabetes is more than $16,000 per year, according to a May 2018 study, and the total cost (medical bills, lost work and wages) is a staggering $250 billion.

Where We Came From and Where We’re Headed

What we’ve given you so far is just a snapshot—a look at the numbers behind diabetes right now, in the present moment.

But in order to really grasp the scale of the problem, it’s important to see how the numbers have changed over time—and what the future will likely hold.

For example, just 60 years ago it’s estimated that less than 1 percent of Americans had been diagnosed with diabetes, compared to over 7 percent today. And just since 1980—when the National Health Interview Survey started asking about it—the total number of diagnosed cases has more than quadrupled, from 5.5 million to 23 million.

If you look at the trend line, you can really see the numbers start to accelerate around the late 90s to early 00s—according to the CDC statistics, diagnoses doubled in just 8 years between 1996 (7.6 million) and 2004 (15.2 million).

If current trends continue, the CDC predicts that as many as one third of American adults may have diabetes by 2050.

What’s Causing This Epidemic?

As with many public health trends, there’s no one single explanation for why diabetes rates are on the rise. Many different factors contribute—including some relatively positive ones you might not have considered at first.

  • Poor diet. The American diet is heavy on processed carbohydrates, fast food, junk food, and other nutrient-poor meals. Many of these foods cause blood sugar spikes, which in turn force your body to respond by spiking insulin levels. Eventually your body starts to “ignore” the insulin and sugar levels remain high—in other words, Type 2 diabetes.
  • Poor exercise. Less than a quarter of Americans are meeting the minimum CDC guidelines for aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise. Regular exercise is the single most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of developing diabetes.
  • An aging population. The risk of developing diabetes increases with age, for a variety of reasons (though decreased physical activity is the most significant among them). As the Baby Boomer generation reaches retirement age and beyond, rates tend to rise.
  • Improved medical care. Thanks to advances in medical science and treatment options, people are surviving longer than before after diagnosis. Obviously, that’s a good thing! However it does mean that a greater and greater percentage of the overall population is now living with the disease.

What Can You Do About It?

As a podiatry office, we treat a lot of patients with diabetes. That’s not surprising, given that diabetes is linked with all kinds of foot problems—from dry skin and corns to more serious foot wounds, infections, and neuropathy.

The best recommendation is always to prevent diabetes if you can, by eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise.

However, if you already have a diabetes diagnosis, there’s still a lot you can do to protect yourself and continue to live a high quality, healthy, active life—and we can help you!

For starters, we strongly recommend you schedule a full diabetic foot checkup at least once per year. Our office offers advanced diagnostic technology, including an arterial doppler, to check your circulatory and nerve health and detect serious complications early. We can also fit you with diabetic shoes, which are almost always covered by insurance and are one of the flat-out best ways to prevent diabetic foot complications in day-to-day life.

You should also be checking your feet every day for signs of injury or damage. Due to neuropathy, you might not otherwise notice emerging problems until it’s too late—unless you make a daily inspection part of your regular routine.

And if you do notice any injuries, infections, or sores that won’t heal, don’t risk it. Seek help immediately. Every day you delay increases your risk of a severe complication—even losing your foot entirely to amputation.

If you are currently experiencing any problems with your feet or you need to schedule an annual exam, please call our office today at (405) 418-2676 to request an appointment in either Oklahoma City or Moore.

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Oklahoma City, OK 73114

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