CDC: Diabetes could affect a third of Americans by 2050

The prevalence of diabetes in America could triple within four decades, government researchers warned Friday.

While roughly 10 percent of adults suffer from diabetes today, that figure is projected to jump to between 20 and 33 percent by 2050, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. 

The increase reflects (1) an aging population that's more susceptible to Type 2 diabetes, (2) increases in minority populations that are affected by the disease in disproportionate numbers, and (3) the longer lifespans of those living with the condition.

CDC officials said the numbers should be a wake-up call for policymakers hoping to promote wellness and rein in healthcare spending. 

“These are alarming numbers that show how critical it is to change the course of Type 2 diabetes,” Ann Albright, director of CDC’s division of diabetes translation, said in a statement. "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."

Diabetes, the seventh leading cause of death in 2007, is also one of the most expensive conditions to treat, largely because victims also tend to suffer from other serious ailments, like heart disease and kidney failure. 

Recent estimates put the annual cost to treat the disease at $174 billion, with $116 billion going toward direct medical care. 

Old age, obesity and lack of exercise are all risk factors for the disease. Ethnicity also plays a role, with blacks, Hispanics and American Indians suffering disproportionately. 

Of the roughly 24 million Americans with diabetes today, the CDC estimates that 25 percent of them don't know they have it.

The crisis is not just domestic. The International Diabetes Federation projects that as many as 438 million people worldwide will have diabetes by 2030 — up from an estimated 285 million today.