Up to one in three American adults will have diabetes by 2050 unless something is done to curb unhealthy lifestyle trends in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned on Friday.
A new CDC report predicts that the number of new diabetes cases each year will increase from eight per 1,000 people in 2008, to 15 per 1,000 in 2050.
Currently, diabetes affects one in 10 U.S. adults, but government health officials say the aging population, as well as an increase in minority groups more prone to the condition could push the statistics higher.
The rise in number of obese American is also one of the largest contributors to the CDC's projection, according to ABC News chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser.
"Obesity is the biggest risk factor that's changeable and we haven't been able to tackle the obesity epidemic in this country," Besser said on "Good Morning America."
Other medical experts agreed the new CDC projections are worrisome.
"This is just the latest in a series of disturbing epidemiologic studies on the diabetes pandemic," said Dr. Charles Clark, professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. He said that though the new figures suggest that older adults would bear the brunt of the illness, "My biggest concern is the trend for the average age of diagnosis to decrease as childhood obesity and a sedentary lifestyle becomes the norm."
The U.S. is not the only country currently struggling with diabetes. According to the International Diabetes Federation estimates, about 285 million people worldwide had diabetes in 2010, and as many as 438 million could have the condition by 2030.
In addition to its detrimental health effects, the financial toll of diabetes is staggering. Americans spend $174 billion each year to treat diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.
In the majority of cases, however, healthy lifestyle changes can help prevent or control diabetes. For this reason, Besser said, much of the responsibility for reducing the impact of diabetes can be tackled on an individual basis.
"You can't change getting old, you can't change your family's risk factor, but you can tackle this issue of obesity," said Besser. "It's lifestyle, it's proper diet, it's regular exercise."
But the government has a role to play as well, said Ann Albright, director of the CDC's Division of Diabetes Translation, in a press release accompanying the new report.
"Successful programs to improve lifestyle choices on healthy eating and physical activity must be made more widely available, because the stakes are too high and the personal toll too devastating to fail," Albright said.
Clark agreed. "There needs to be increasing efforts to recognize that this is a serious issue that needs addressing," he said. "It is probably the greatest public health issue that we face today.
"Twice as many women die of diabetes than of breast cancer, for example, and deaths from AIDS pale in comparison to even current diabetes mortality."