Life expectancy at age 18 for both men and women increased between the 1980s and 2000s, and the overall estimated diabetes-free life went down by about 1.5 years, according to the study.
However, the number of 18-year-olds who would develop diabetes over their lifetimes went up by almost 50 percent for women and nearly doubled for men, the study reports. Moreover, the obese fared worst of all. The loss of diabetes-free life was 5.6 years for men and 2.5 years for women.
"There are a lot of health care implications from our study," Cunningham said. "If we're going to be targeting diabetes as a preventable disease, which type 2 diabetes is, we need to focus on obese individuals. And, I think we need to take new approaches to try to lower diabetes risk in this group. The present efforts to curb diabetes have been successful for some segments of the population, but less so for the obese," she said.
Though it's not always easy, lifestyle changes tend to have the biggest impact on diabetes risk, she said. That means careful monitoring of the diet and regular physical activity. "Even for the highest-risk groups, lifestyle changes are effective," said Cunningham.
"From population studies like this, it's hard to predict the impact on an individual, but once people get diabetes, it can have a huge impact on their life expectancy and their quality of life," explained Dr. Vivian Fonseca, president-elect of medicine and science at the American Diabetes Association.
Fonseca echoed Cunningham's advice. "Type 2 diabetes is preventable. Moderate degrees of lifestyle change can decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes by 60 percent over a three-year period. And, some of those benefits extend much longer. Moderate lifestyle changes are walking 30 minutes a day and los
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