World Diabetes Day and the Rise of Diabetes in the United States

, former food systems & health analyst | November 16, 2015, 4:52 pm EDT
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Around the world, diabetes affects approximately 370 million adults. In the United States, diabetes rates among adults have more than tripled since the 1980s and approximately 11 percent of adults have been diagnosed with diabetes. If this trend continues, nearly 30 percent of adults could have diabetes by 2050, with communities of color being disproportionately affected. In 2012, the total estimated cost of diagnosed diabetes in the U.S. was $245 billion. People diagnosed with diabetes have medical expenditures approximately 3 times higher than people without diabetes.


The logo of World Diabetes Day is a blue circle, which symbolizes life and health.

This past Saturday, November 14, was World Diabetes Day. It’s jointly organized by the World Health Organisation and the International Diabetes Federation. World Diabetes Day is celebrated on November 14 because it marks the birthday of the man who co-discovered insulin, Frederick Banting. Insulin is a critically important medication for individuals with Type 1 diabetes.

But, what is diabetes? And what’s the difference between Type 1 and Type 2?

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that affects the way the body processes blood sugar. Left untreated or poorly managed, diabetes can cause kidney damage, blindness, and vascular insufficiencies leading to lower-limb amputations. Additionally, children with diabetes are at an increased risk for heart disease and stroke later on in life.

Individuals are diagnosed with either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. Individuals are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes if they are insulin-dependent (because their pancreas fails to produce insulin on its own), whereas individuals with Type 2 diabetes are insulin-resistant (their body does not respond normally to insulin). Type 1 diabetes used to be called “childhood diabetes,” and was generally an autoimmune disorder. Type 1 diabetes accounts for approximately 10% of all diabetes cases. Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented.

Type 2 diabetes used to be called “adult onset diabetes,” since most individuals diagnosed with Type 2 were diagnosed later on in life. However, since the prevalence among Type 2 diabetes in children and youth is rising dramatically, Type 2 diabetes is no longer referred to as “adult onset diabetes.” Type 2 diabetes cases account for approximately 90% of all diabetes cases. Compared to Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes is highly preventable and can be addressed with several modifiable factors. Type 2 diabetes is associated with obesity, body fat distribution, and physical inactivity. There is a strong correlation between overweight and obesity and diabetes. Individuals who are overweight or obese have much higher risks for being diabetic than healthy weight individuals.

As I’ve written previously, becoming overweight or obese is very complex and combines a number of factors. Public health professionals argue that individual behaviors only affect 50% of an individual’s health. The recognition that dietary behaviors are not entirely based on individual choice has shifted the public health focus from individual responsibility to public policies that can address diet-related chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes.

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  • Richard Solomon

    Perhaps it was space considerations but this piece did not mention one other kind of type 2 diabetes: that induced by medication. Some individuals with chronic, ongoing asthma are treated with steroid based medicines to reduce the inflammation in their lungs, etc. This can help contain their asthma. Unfortunately, regular use of these meds over the course of some months/a few years can induce diabetes. Individuals under this kind of care should discuss it thoroughly with their physicians to find out how they can reduce this risk via exercise, diet, and/or a different medication regimen.

    • Lindsey Haynes-Maslow

      Thank you for your comment. Some individuals taking steroids are at an increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes. However, the research on steroid-induced diabetes is mixed and therefore difficult to quantify.