Type 2 Diabetes: Statistics and Facts

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Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition in which blood sugar (glucose) levels are excessively high. It's the most common form of diabetes, affecting more than 34 million Americans, or just over 10% of the U.S. population. Type 2 diabetes accounts for approximately 90% to 95% of all diabetes cases in the country.

Type 2 diabetes is associated with a range of lifestyle risk factors including obesity and lack of exercise. It usually develops in those over the age of 45 and occurs when the body becomes less sensitive to the blood sugar-regulating hormone insulin

This article looks at the prevalence of type 2 diabetes, its causes and risk factors, and the life expectancy of those with the condition. It also covers ways to prevent diabetes.

woman checks blood sugar

Prevalence of Type 2 Diabetes

Data shows that the prevalence of type 2 diabetes has been increasing in the United States and around the world for the past three decades. Type 2 diabetes rates have risen at such an alarming rate that public health officials have deemed this condition to be a public health crisis. 

Over 34 million Americans—that's about 1 in 10 people—are currently affected by Type 2 diabetes.

Reports on the global burden of diabetes suggest that approximately 462 million individuals around the world are affected by type 2 diabetes. Americans account for just over 7% of the world's cases.

In total, an estimated 6.28% of the world’s population is impacted by type 2 diabetes, clocking in at a prevalence rate of 6,059 cases per 100,000 people. That number is expected to rise to 7,079 individuals per 100,000 people by 2030. Even more, over one million people die every year from type 2 diabetes, making it the ninth leading cause of death worldwide.

Life Expectancy: Factors that Influence Prognosis

Type 2 diabetes can greatly affect your health, but how long you can live with the condition depends on the timeliness of your diagnosis and treatment. Life expectancy is also affected by how well you manage your blood sugar levels and your ability to avoid factors that raise the risk of complications. These risk factors include smoking, lack of exercising, poor diet, and maintaining an unhealthy weight.

Research shows that on average type 2 diabetes is associated with a 1.3 to 2.0 times higher risk of early death, which is most often the result of cardiovascular disease.

Still, some factors contribute to a better outlook for people with diabetes. New medications and screening techniques have improved diagnostics and treatment, and a renewed emphasis on eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight can make a difference.

Age

The older you get, the greater your risk of type 2 diabetes—regardless of your genetics, weight, or eating habits. That's because the cells' ability to respond to insulin, called insulin sensitivity, decreases with age, especially after age 45.

When cells become more resistant to insulin (insulin resistance), it makes it harder for blood sugar to be effectively removed from the bloodstream, which causes blood sugar levels to rise excessively high.

Scientists theorize that the pancreas "ages" as well, losing its ability to pump insulin as efficiently as it did when we were younger.

Genetics

A diagnosis of diabetes is usually met with a ton of questions. Did I inherit this condition? Are my children at risk? Could I have prevented this, or was I genetically predisposed to get this all along?

The answers are complex, but research has shown that genetics play a role in type 2 diabetes. In fact, it is now believed that many people inherit a predisposition to the disease, but something in your environment triggers it. Genetics alone don't explain why one person develops type 2 diabetes and another does not. 

Type 2 diabetes has a strong genetic component—more so than Type 1 diabetes—as indicated by twin studies that show that if one twin has the condition the other twin is three to four times as likely to get it. Similarly, family history seems to play a large role since obesity, which is significantly linked to diabetes, and diabetes itself are often seen in both parents and their children. 

Additionally, race and ethnicity play a mysterious role in whether or not you're more likely to develop diabetes. People who identify as African-American, Latinx, Pacific-Islander, or Alaskan Native (AI/AN) have a higher-than-normal rate of type 2 diabetes. Studies show more than 120 gene variants have been identified as linked to causing type 2 diabetes.

Diet

Your diet is one of the most important factors in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and extending your life expectancy when you have type 2 diabetes.

Managing blood sugar can be difficult either because your pancreas isn't making enough insulin or the insulin it makes isn't being used efficiently. Learning what to eat and what not to eat, portion control, and how to meet your dietary needs are paramount to leading a healthy, symptom-free life.

There are some diets, sometimes called “diabetic diets” that have been proven to keep blood sugars within a healthy range. These diets all encourage high fiber intake, little or no added sugar, complex carbs, and avoidance of foods high in trans and saturated fats. The goal is to provide you with the macronutrients you need while cutting the simple carbs that lead to spikes in blood sugar. 

While there's no one-size-fits-all diabetic diet, it's important to note that there are some well-studied meal plans that have been shown to lower your risk of medical complications as a result of type 2 diabetes. These meal plans include:

  • The Mediterranean diet: This diet has been shown to improve fasting glucose and A1C levels (which are used to monitor diabetes) for those with type 2 diabetes. It emphasizes eating vegetables, minimally processed foods, a moderate amount of fish, poultry, and eggs, and little dairy or red meat (once a week approximately).
  • Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet: In addition to promoting blood pressure control, this low-fat, low-sodium eating pattern has been shown to improve insulin resistance and hyperlipidemia (too many fats in the blood). It also promotes weight loss. But at its extreme, this diet can promote too many carbs and not enough healthy fats so you may want to consult with a specialist to formulate a plan that works best for you.
  • Paleo: Paleo mimics the way earliest humans ate, cutting out all sugar, dairy, and processed foods. Paleo diets are generally low in carbohydrates; therefore, they are effective at improving glycemic control.
  • Vegetarian or plant-based diets. Vegetarian and vegan diets have been shown to lessen insulin resistance in those with type 2 diabetes but only if you're mindful of your carbohydrate intake. Carb consumption tends to go up when replacing meat or dairy (two major sources of protein), but emphasizing high-fiber legumes (beans), nuts, and healthy plant-based fat sources like avocado can help you avoid this pitfall.

Prevention

Type 2 diabetes is a largely preventable disease if you know the risk factors and take immediate steps to limit their negative impact on your health. 

The risk factors for diabetes include: 

  • Being overweight, which means having a body mass index (BMI) over 25
  • Living a sedentary lifestyle
  • Age of 45 years or older
  • A family history of type 2 diabetes, especially a parent, brother, or sister with the disease
  • Being physically active fewer than three times a week
  • A history of diabetes during pregnancy, also known as gestational diabetes, or giving birth to a baby who weighed more than 9 pounds
  • Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

The American Diabetes Association recommends that most adults begin diabetes screening at the age of 45. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening for people 35 and up who are overweight or obese.

No matter your age, it’s never too early to start an anti-diabetes lifestyle that includes:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight: Losing weight can decrease insulin resistance, allowing the body to better utilize the hormone. Research has shown that losing a small amount of weight can lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. A small amount of weight loss means around 5% to 7% of your body weight or just 10 to 14 pounds for a 200-pound person.
  • Increasing physical activity: Regular physical activity means getting at least 150 minutes a week of brisk walking or similar activity. Biking, running, swimming, and hiking are highly recommended activities. Most healthcare professionals suggest 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise—that means enough to break a sweat—five days a week.
  • Eating healthfully: An excess of refined, simple carbohydrates and a lack of fiber both contribute to obesity and may lead to a diagnosis of diabetes. Consider transitioning to a diet based on complex carbohydrates (like sweet potatoes, brown rice, and lentils), fiber-rich vegetables and fruits, lean proteins (fish, poultry), and healthy fats (olives, avocado, nuts, and seeds). Over time this shift can actually reverse or prevent type 2 diabetes.

Comorbid Conditions

Obesity is often associated with and first thought of when many people think of type 2 diabetes, but hypertension, heart disease, hyperlipidemia, obstructive sleep apnea, and chronic kidney disease are also conditions that can be caused or made worse by diabetes.

Risk factors for many of these conditions overlap with risk factors for diabetes. Thus, lifestyle changes and other treatments that help you manage or prevent diabetes can also lower the chances you'll have problems from these comorbidities.

When to Talk to Your Healthcare Provider

If you have certain risk factors, like excess belly fat or a sedentary lifestyle, you may want to work with your healthcare provider to assess your diabetes risk.

Type 2 diabetes is a manageable condition, but early detection and treatment under the care of a trusted medical professional are key. With the help of a diabetes care team, you can formulate a plan with reachable goals and figure out the best course of action moving forward.

Summary

Type 2 diabetes affects more than 34 million Americans or just over 10% of the U.S. population—and that number is expected to rise over the next decade. This condition is considered public health crisis.

While there's no one cause of type 2 diabetes, it's largely thought of as a lifestyle disease. Avoiding the following habits can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

  • Poor diet
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle 
  • Smoking and frequent alcohol use

If you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, it's important to manage your blood sugar levels by eating a healthy, low-sugar diet, exercising regularly, and losing weight. These strategies can help you avoid health complications from diabetes.

A Word From Verywell

If you've been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or are worried because you're at risk for developing the condition, don't allow yourself to feel discouraged. There are many ways to take control of your health. Educating yourself about how to manage your blood sugar, eat well, and achieve a healthy weight is the first step. Taking action is the next. The better you control your diabetes and take hold of your overall health the more likely it is that your quality of life will not be compromised by this disease. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What’s the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes?

    Type 1 diabetes is an inherited autoimmune disorder characterized by the destruction of the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. It appears early in life. Type 2 diabetes is a diet-related condition characterized by obesity and insulin resistance that develops over time.

  • How do you know if you have diabetes?

    Early signs of diabetes include fatigue, changes in vision, increases in thirst, excessive urination, unexplained weight loss, and numbness and tingling in the hands and feet. A urine glucose test is a quick and cheap screening tool that can be used to detect sugar in the urine, a subtle sign of potential diabetes. A blood glucose test or a hemoglobin A1c is used to confirm the diagnosis.

  • What is prediabetes?

    Prediabetes is an early warning sign that you may be headed towards full-blown type 2 diabetes. Prediabetes means you have higher-than-normal blood sugar (glucose), but it's not high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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