1 in 5 adolescents have prediabetes in U.S.

In the United States, one in five adolescents and one in four adults have prediabetes, a serious health condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal.

The recent report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published in JAMA Pediatrics, highlights the rising prevalence of prediabetes, which can lead to type 2 diabetes if it’s not treated or controlled early. In the country, an estimated 18 percent among adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18, and 24 percent among young adults, between 19 and 34 have prediabetes.

Health experts report that the rate of prediabetes has risen over the past decade, predisposing people to the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other serious health conditions.

Image Credit: DONOT6_STUDIO / Shutterstock
Image Credit: DONOT6_STUDIO / Shutterstock

Increasing prediabetes rates

In the study, a team of researchers analyzed data on blood sugar levels in 5,786 people between 12 and 34 years old, who hadn’t been diagnosed with diabetes. More findings show that prediabetes is higher in males than females and those with obesity overall.

Moreover, there is a higher prediabetes rate in those who had higher non-high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, central adiposity, systolic blood pressure, and lower insulin sensitivity. Another key finding of the study shows that the percentage of Hispanic young adults had higher rates of prediabetes than white young adults.

The study spanned 11 years, from 2005 to 2016, and used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which included participants from teens and young adults. The participants have no prior diagnosis of diabetes; they were not pregnant and had measured their fasting plasma glucose, HbA1c levels, and 2-hour plasma glucose after a 75-g oral glucose tolerance test.

Working together to control sugar levels in teens

“Prediabetes is highly prevalent in U.S. adolescents and young adults, especially in male individuals and in people with obesity,” Linda Andes of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and lead author of the study, said.

Prediabetes increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and chronic kidney disease. Among teens, the rate of type 2 diabetes has increased in the past ten years. Hence, it’s important to monitor the prevalence of prediabetes early on, to assess the future risk in young people. This way, doctors and parents can work together to control sugar levels and modify the lifestyle practices of adolescents.

“The prevalence of prediabetes in adolescents and young adults reinforces the critical need for effective public health strategies that promote healthy eating habits, physical activity, and stress management,” Dr Robert R. Redfield, CDC director, said.  

“These lifestyle behaviors can begin early in a child’s life and should continue through adolescence and adulthood to reduce the onset of type 2 diabetes,” he added.

The CDC recommends that adults who are prediabetics should undergo a structured lifestyle-change program, which includes weight management, exercise, and lifestyle changes. The CDC reports that those who will undergo the program can cut their risk of progressing to type 2 diabetes by as much as 58 percent.

For parents of teens with prediabetes, they can help reverse their child’s condition by encouraging healthy eating habits and increased physical activity. It is known that children and teens today are mostly sedentary, with the emergence of gadgets and the internet. They should aim their children to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day.

How to spot prediabetes?

Prediabetes is a health condition that can predispose a person to type 2 diabetes and other serious conditions, such as heart disease and stroke. In prediabetes, the blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes.

Overall, about 84 million adults in the United States have prediabetes, and of those, about 90 percent aren’t aware they have it. People with prediabetes can be asymptomatic for years, so it becomes undetected for years until they develop health problems.  

The common risk factors include a family history of type 2 diabetes, being overweight, having gestational diabetes during pregnancy, having polycystic ovary syndrome, being physically active less than three times a week, and those who are 45 years or older.

Journal reference:

Andes LJ, Cheng YJ, Rolka DB, Gregg EW, Imperatore G. Prevalence of Prediabetes Among Adolescents and Young Adults in the United States, 2005-2016. JAMA Pediatr. Published online December 02, 2019. doi: https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.4498

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Written by

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Angela is a nurse by profession and a writer by heart. She graduated with honors (Cum Laude) for her Bachelor of Nursing degree at the University of Baguio, Philippines. She is currently completing her Master's Degree where she specialized in Maternal and Child Nursing and worked as a clinical instructor and educator in the School of Nursing at the University of Baguio.


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