While life expectancy at age 18 for American men and women increased between the 1980s and the 2000s, the number of years an 18-year-old would expect to live without diabetes fell by 1.7 years for men and 1.5 years for women. Meanwhile, the proportion of 18-year-olds expected to develop diabetes in their lifetimes increased by almost 50% among women and almost doubled among men, researchers at Emory University, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the University of Colorado found.
Obese individuals experienced the greatest losses in lifetime without diabetes over the past 20 years, estimated at 5.6 years for men and 2.5 years for women.
“We found a pattern that points to a prolonged period of health problems rather than longer healthy lifespans, but only among obese individuals,” said lead researcher Solveig Cunningham, PhD, of the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University. “Among non-obese individuals, who represent the majority of the population, lifetimes without diabetes increased during the same period. Therefore, diabetes prevention efforts should now be focused on obese individuals.”
Currently, 34 percent of the US adult population is obese and more than one third of Americans are expected to develop diabetes over their lifetime. However, research shows that type 2 diabetes may be prevented or delayed through lifestyle change — specifically, by losing weight and increasing physical activity levels.
“Our results suggest that, in the face of budgetary or logistic constraints, new efforts to prevent diabetes can have the greatest impact among obese individuals, as those who are not obese generally have experienced decreases in risks over the past two decades with current prevention efforts,” the researchers wrote.
The findings also emphasize the potential impact on the nation’s healthcare system, as a growing number of people will be sicker longer. Diabetes-related complications can include kidney and heart disease, nerve damage, eye problems, amputations and other serious health problems.
“This study highlights the growing prevalence of diabetes, implying greater future healthcare demand at younger ages and for longer lifespans,” the researchers wrote.
Diabetes Care, published by the American Diabetes Association, is the leading peer-reviewed journal of clinical research into one of the nation’s leading causes of death by disease. Diabetes also is a leading cause of heart disease and stroke, as well as the leading cause of adult blindness, kidney failure, and non-traumatic amputations.