News Release: School of Public Health

Sep. 23,  2011

More Obese Americans Suffering from Diabetes, Study Says

ATLANTA – A study led by Emory University, published online Sept. 23 in Diabetes Care, shows that although Americans are living longer, obese Americans are living fewer of those years without diabetes.

According to the study, life expectancy at age 18 for American men and women increased between the 1980s and the 2000s, but the number of years an average 18-year-old would expect to live without diabetes fell by 1.7 years for men and 1.5 years for women. However, obese 18-year-old men and women could expect to live 5.6 and 2.5 fewer years respectively without diabetes than they would have 20 years ago.

“We found a pattern that points to a prolonged period of health problems rather than longer healthy lifespans, but only among obese individuals,” says lead researcher Solveig A. Cunningham, PhD, assistant professor, Hubert Department of Global Health at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health. “Among non-obese individuals, who represent the majority of the population, lifetimes without diabetes increased during the same period. Therefore, diabetes prevention efforts should now be focused on obese individuals.”

Cunningham and her colleagues at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the University of Colorado also found that the proportion of 18-year-olds expected to develop diabetes in their lifetimes increased by almost 50 percent among women and almost doubled among men.

According to the American Diabetes Association, currently 34 percent of the U.S. adult population is obese and more than one third of Americans are expected to develop diabetes over their lifetimes. Research shows that diabetes can be prevented or delayed by healthier diet, exercise and weight loss.

“Our findings also indicate that diabetes incidence among obese individuals has moved to younger ages over the past 20 years which means more people will be living longer with the disease,” says Cunningham.

Findings also suggest a large future increase in the prevalence of diabetes and its complications, especially among obese individuals. Diabetes-related complications can include kidney and heart disease, nerve damage, eye problems, amputations and other serious health problems.


The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service.

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Twitter: @emoryhealthsci

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