Written by Amy Brownstein, MS, RD
Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes, with 534 million people affected globally. An additional 541 million people globally are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes due to impaired glucose tolerance. The number of people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes is expected to rise to 643 million by 2030. 
Type 2 diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the United States and within the top 10 causes of death globally. [2,3] Type 2 diabetes affects your health and quality of life; complications can occur often and be severe.
And while diabetes is a scary and life-altering condition, knowing your risk of type 2 diabetes and implementing dietary and lifestyle modifications can help manage and reverse symptoms.
Here, we’ll review diabetes statistics and trends and symptoms, risk factors, and complications of this chronic disease.
How prevalent is diabetes?
Prevalence refers to the number of people in a population at a given time with a specific disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 37.3 million people, or 11.3% of the population, in the United States are living with type 2 diabetes. But only 28.8 million people have received a diabetes diagnosis.  Early diagnosis of type 2 diabetes is crucial for managing and reversing the effects of uncontrolled blood sugar levels on the pancreas, other organs, and overall health.
Type 2 diabetes is becoming more common. The prevalence of diabetes increased from 10.3% in 2001-2004 to 13.2% of all adults aged 18 years or older in 2017-2020. And in 2019 alone, 1.4 million new cases of diabetes were diagnosed. 
The prevalence of type 2 diabetes differs by race and ethnicity, with certain groups having a higher rate of type 2 diabetes than others. The rates of diagnosed diabetes based on racial or ethnic background are:
- 14.5% American Indians/Alaskan Natives
- 12.1% of non-Hispanic Blacks
- 11.8% of Hispanics
- 9.5% of Asian Americans
- 7.4% of non-Hispanic whites 
What are the symptoms of type 2 diabetes?
Symptoms of type 2 diabetes can develop slowly over time. Signs of type 2 diabetes include:
- increased thirst and urination
- increased hunger
- blurred vision
- numbness or tingling in your hands or feet
- cuts that do not heal
- unexplained weight loss 
Symptoms may be so mild that you don’t notice them. Or, you may not have any symptoms until you experience other health problems related to type 2 diabetes.
What are the risk factors of type 2 diabetes?
Many factors can influence your risk of type 2 diabetes. However, the most common risk factors include the following:
- having prediabetes
- being overweight
- 45 years of age or older
- immediate family members with type 2 diabetes
- gestational diabetes
- certain races and ethnicities, such as African American, Hispanic or Latino, Pacific Islander, American Indian, or Alaska Native 
Other risk factors, such as diet and exercise, are modifiable. Therefore, you can influence your chance of type 2 diabetes by changing these lifestyle factors.
What are the complications of type 2 diabetes?
Diabetes can lead to other health issues, such as heart disease, chronic kidney disease, nerve damage, foot ulcers, and vision and hearing loss. This isn’t mean to frighten or intimiate you but just make you aware of the potential long-term complications of type 2 diabetes. The good news is that by changing your diet and lifestyle, you can significantly reduce your risk of these severe issues.
People with diabetes are twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke than someone without diabetes. Heart disease and diabetes share risk factors, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol. High cholesterol levels contribute to insulin resistance and the formation and buildup of plaque on artery walls. And high blood sugar and blood pressure can damage blood vessels, which increases your risk of heart disease. 
Not only can high blood sugar and blood pressure levels affect your arteries, but they can also damage blood vessels in the kidney. Over time, damage accumulates and affects the kidneys’ ability to function. About one out of three people with diabetes also have kidney disease. 
Persistently high blood sugar and fat levels can cause damage to nerves (important tissues that send signals between the brain and parts of your body) over time. Diabetes-related nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy) can cause pain and numbness in your feet and affect your internal organs’ function. Up to 50% of people with diabetes have peripheral neuropathy, nerve damage that affects the feet and legs and occasionally the arms. And more than 30% of people with diabetes have autonomic neuropathy, nerve damage related to your internal organs.  Because complications affect your nerves, you may not feel or notice any additional issues until they become severe.
Diabetic neuropathy in the feet can cause ulcers, sores, and infections, which can affect your balance and lead to falls and fractures. Diabetes can also influence the amount of blood flow in the feet, making it difficult for ulcers, sores, and infections to heal. And unchecked foot sores or untreated infections may result in amputation. It is vital to check your feet regularly and to maintain good foot hygiene. [7,8]
Diabetic retinopathy (eye damage due to diabetes) is the top cause of blindness in working-age adults. High blood glucose damages the blood vessels in the retina (the light-sensitive layer of cells in the back of the eye). Damage can cause the blood vessels to swell and leak, leading to blurred vision or reduced or nonexistent blood flow. New blood vessels may grow, but they aren’t normal and may result in worse vision. 
How can you prevent type 2 diabetes?
Regularly participate in physical activity
Regular exercise can prevent and delay the onset of type 2 diabetes and can also reduce the risk of complications. Resistance or aerobic exercise individually can improve insulin sensitivity, but the most significant effects occur with a mix of aerobic and resistance training. General physical activity or exercise of just 1 to 2 sessions per week can make a significant difference in controlling blood sugar and reducing HbA1c. 
Adopt a predominantly plant-based diet
A plant-based diet is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. This is likely due to the high vitamin, mineral, antioxidant, fiber, and unsaturated fatty acid content in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and legumes, all of which comprise a plant-based diet. 
Monitor your health
If you are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, follow-up regularly with your medical provider. Following changes in your blood sugar, HbA1c, and insulin levels — as well as cholesterol and blood pressure — can help you evaluate your risk of type 2 diabetes and implement lifestyle modifications before the disease progresses. The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends regular screening for type 2 diabetes if you are overweight and have one or more risk factors. Otherwise, routine screening occurs after the age of 35 in overweight individuals. 
- Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, affecting 534 million people per year globally.
- Type 2 diabetes is becoming more prevalent. The number of people diagnosed with the disease is increasing, and even more people live without a diagnosis.
- Race and ethnicity affect your risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Managing your type 2 diabetes with lifestyle changes (diet, exercise, and quitting smoking) can reduce your chance of complications and can put your diabetes in remission.
- Monitor your health to assess your risk of type 2 diabetes and to prevent any complications from arising.
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