More Young Adults are Being Diagnosed with Prediabetes and Diabetes -- and the Pandemic is Partly to Blame

Just weeks before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, a study in the JAMA Pediatrics, published by the American Medical Association, found that nearly a quarter of young adults, ages 19 to 34, and a fifth of adolescents, ages 12 to 18, in the U.S. have “prediabetes” — a possible precursor to type 2 diabetes.

That’s in addition to existing data that shows more than 34 million Americans are living with diabetes, and another 88 million are living with prediabetes (about 1-in-3 adults). Prediabetes means a person’s blood glucose (sugar) level is higher than normal, but not high enough yet for a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes.

If left untreated, prediabetes can progress into type 2 diabetes. About 1 in 3 U.S. adults has prediabetes. Individuals with this condition may also be at a higher risk for chronic kidney disease and cardiovascular disease.

The pandemic has only intensified the diabetes/prediabetes epidemic nationwide.

Aldo Ribeiros Jr., M.D., an internal medicine physician with Baptist Health Primary Care.

“I definitely see an upward trend in the frequency of which diabetes, and especially prediabetes, is being diagnosed in patients,” said Aldo Ribeiros Jr., M.D., an internal medicine physician with Baptist Health Primary Care. “Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has directly affected many of us as a disease, but it has also affected our communities indirectly as well.”

One of the ways the pandemic has adversely affected the health of communities is by “making it easier to live a sedentary lifestyle with the lockdowns and closures of places that people rely on for exercise such as gyms and public parks,” adds Dr. Ribeiros.

A lifestyle of healthy eating, weight management, regular exercise and avoiding unhealthy habits, such as smoking and excess alcohol, is essential for preventing prediabetes and diabetes.

“Couple the sedentary lifestyle with poor eating habits of maybe ordering takeout frequently or having easy access to food being home all the time — and it should not come as a surprise if diabetes/prediabetes rates continue to increase when people eventually come in for an annual check-up that they have been holding off for the past year, explains Dr. Ribeiros.   

You can have prediabetes for years without experiencing any obvious or clear symptoms, so it may go undetected until serious health problems arise. See your doctor about getting your blood sugar tested if you have any of the risk factors for prediabetes. The following are prediabetes risk factors, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Being overweight
  • Being 45 years or older
  • Having a parent, brother, or sister with type 2 diabetes
  • Being physically active less than 3 times a week
  • Ever having gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) or giving birth to a baby who weighed more than 9 pounds

Here’s more from Dr. Ribeiros on prediabetes and diabetes:

Question: Are you seeing younger people with prediabetes or a diagnosis of diabetes, which has been the trend in recent years?

Dr. Ribeiros: “Yes, I am seeing younger people being diagnosed with prediabetes in my practice. Per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were an estimated 28.7 million people in the United States diagnosed with diabetes in 2018 which is an increase of 3.5 percent when compared to the estimated number of individuals with prediabetes during 2013-2016.”

Question: What message would you like to send the health consumers who read are blog, particularly those who have put off their checkups?

Dr. Ribeiros: “The main message I want people to take away from this is that early detection is key to the prevention of prediabetes to diabetes. If lifestyle changes are implemented early, the progression to diabetes can hopefully be avoided and in turn mitigate the overwhelming clinical and public health burden it continues to cause.”

Question: Do you sense that people are becoming increasingly aware of the health risks linked to unhealthy eating habits, being overweight and lack of exercise? Or is getting patients to understand this connection still a challenge?

Dr. Ribeiros: “I do sense that the younger generation is more aware of their health in general, and of certain risks that can jeopardize their overall wellness.  However, knowing about said health risks is not the same as putting into action a plan to treat or prevent them.  I believe one of our main challenges as physicians is to bridge that gap by recommending lifestyle changes that are approachable, realistic and tailored to our patients.”

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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