Troubling Trends in Earlier On-Set of Type 2 Diabetes

Current Statistics and Staggering Projections Indicate that Type 2 is Becoming More Prevalent Among Younger Adults

For years, type 2 diabetes has been considered the older adults' diabetes. While middle-aged Americans and seniors are still at the highest risk for developing type 2 diabetes, recent data has shown that type 2 is more common among younger people than ever before.

In 2015, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reported over 350,000+ new cases of diabetes among adults ages 18 to 44. 

iStock-1006638970 increase in diabetes cases arrow concept In 2012, the ADA's Journal Diabetes Care published a study which found that type 2 rates for people under the age of 20 could increase 50% by 2050, including a quadrupling of the number of cases for children.[i] 

These projections are based on current rates estimating 12 out of every 100,000 American youths under the age of 20 being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, with diagnosis occurring at an average age of 14.[ii] There are approximately 195,000 Americans in this age group!

While data showing annual increases by age group are not readily available, consider the following:

  • Of the 30 million Americans with diabetes, 90-95% of the cases are type 2, and only 12 million are seniors;
  • There are nearly 85 million more Americans with pre-diabetes, a condition that can lead to type 2 if not adequately addressed; and
  • There are 1.5 million Americans diagnosed every year.[iii]
A Surprising Trend?

The idea that the average age of type 2 diagnoses is dropping should not come as a shock to anyone that is remotely familiar with this topic. 

  • The CDC reported that in 2015-2016, the prevalence of obesity was 36% in adults ages 20-39 and over 18% in youth.[iv] This last figure represents almost 14 million children and adolescents.
  • During this same period, only 21.6% of children and adolescents participated in 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity on at least five days per week, while only 51.6% of high school students attended physical education classes in an average week.[v]

iStock-484863812 unhealthy food on white bckgrdWhile there have been small decreases in the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages in children and adolescents, empty calories from added sugars and the wrong fats contribute to 40% of daily calories for this age group; and while they are consuming more fruit, America's youth is not meeting daily recommendations for fruit and vegetable intake.[vi]

In ethnic and lower-income populations, the prevalence of diabetes is even higher and thus, more disconcerting. Consider also the other lifestyle factors like drug, alcohol and tobacco consumption, as well as stress that have a more profound impact among the youth in these communities.  

In our efforts to combat the diabetes pandemic, I cannot think of a more significant "wake-up call" than the fact that our young adults and children are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Trend Reversal
Unlike other epidemics and health crises, reversing the type 2 diabetes trend is possible. It is not an issue of "finding a cure" or being able to afford the medicine. As many of us know (or have read from my previous blogs), access to and affordability of care become daunting obstacles once we develop type 2 diabetes. 

For those of us concerned about our health, or have been recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes, there are FREE resources you can take advantage of to improve and even reverse your condition. Here are a few tips for getting started.

  • Just move!
    • Start slowly with a short walk or jog every day, even if it is only for five minutes.
    • Get off the couch and start cleaning, or do yard work.
    • Try a new sport or leisure activity, or pick up an old one that you used to enjoy.
    • Any exercise is better than no exercise, however, start slow so that your body has a chance to develop a tolerance. Increase the intensity of your workouts over time. In addition to improving your heart rate and blood pressure, physical activity – especially before meals – will curb your appetite and help your metabolism.
  • iStock-868939784 no sugar diabetesCut out added sugars from your diet completely.
    • Saying no to sugary cereals, and sweets and beverages will have an immediate impact on blood sugar levels as well as weight gain and obesity issues.
    • While you are at it, replace bad carbs with good fats!
  • Educate yourselves.
    • Great recipes, diet hacks, physical fitness strategies, and other lifestyle improvement tips are just a click away.
    • For our part, our Living Healthy portal and blog is a treasure trove for those looking to fight the threat of type 2 diabetes. Be sure to also check out my recent blog on managing appetite and preventing overeating.

We owe it to ourselves and our children to set a better example and be the best version of ourselves. It is easy to put personal health goals aside in favor of work deadlines, professional ambitions, and hauling our kids everywhere (ironically to their sporting events!). Let's expand the conversation at home, in our workplace, and in our communities to start "a new age" and begin reversing the trend of an earlier onset of type 2 diabetes.

Children and Diabetes


Sean Browne

Sean Browne

Former Chief Revenue Officer, CCS Medical

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