Diabetes affects more than 29 million people of all ages in the USA, according to the National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2014 that was recently released by the American Diabetes Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Recent studies confirm these figures continue to rise.

Between 2000 and 2009, a Pediatric Academic Societies' study revealed the number of Type 1 diabetes cases rose 21 percent, while the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes climbed to more than 30 percent. Many of Type 2 cases are directly associated with obesity. While the data does not cover the past four years, the three to four percent increase during the study period assumes things are not getting better.

The CDC figures indicate that of those 29 million American with diabetes, more than a quarter have not even been diagnosed. That's up from 26 million with diabetes in 2010 and represents more than 9 percent of the population. The CDC noted that in 2012, 1.7 million adults were newly diagnosed with diabetes. More than 200,000 children and teenagers have diabetes of either Type 1 or Type 2.

As alarming as the growing incidence of diabetes is the additional 86 million – a third of the adult population – who are headed down the road to diabetes, with blood sugar levels high enough to put them in the Pre-Diabetic category.

Type 1 diabetes, previously known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, is an autoimmune disease in which the body mistakenly attacks the pancreatic cells that make insulin, a hormone that the body needs to allow sugar to penetrate cells and produce energy. People with Type 1 diabetes must inject insulin to survive.

In Type 2 diabetes, once called "adult-onset" diabetes, the body doesn't make enough insulin, or becomes resistant to the effects of insulin which results in elevated blood sugar levels. Treatment for people with Type 2 diabetes includes a food plan, exercise, and often oral medication and possibly insulin injections as well.

An additional study, published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) was based on data from 3 million children and adolescents. The study's authors noted that while Type 1 diabetes had been considered a disease that affected primarily white youth, the findings draw attention to an increase in the number of Type 1 diabetes cases in youth of black and Hispanic populations as well. Researchers found no rise in Asian Pacific Islander and Native American youth. Because the study only took into account youth diagnosed with diabetes by a physician, it may have missed undiagnosed children and adolescents who might meet the criteria for Type 2 diabetes, had they been screened. Not long ago, Type 2 diabetes was practically unheard of in people under 20, which explains why it had been called "adult-onset" diabetes.

Health professionals have made great progress in treating and helping individuals with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes better control their disease. Early diagnosis and prevention of complications are high priorities. Undiagnosed or poorly managed diabetes can increase lifetime risks of heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, blindness and amputations.

Can we stop this trend? In the case of Type 2 diabetes, the key is avoiding obesity – and it starts early. Make sure your child gets a balanced diet, which includes lots of fiber, whole-grain foods, fruits and vegetables. Limit or avoid sugary, fatty, salty junk foods and sodas, and encourage your child to get daily physical activity.

Specific blood and urine tests are used to diagnose Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. The American Diabetes Association recommends overweight children with at least two additional risk factors (such as family history of diabetes, mother with gestational diabetes, signs of insulin resistance, or particular race/ethnicity) be given blood sugar tests every three years beginning at age 10.

The CDC says diabetes and its related complications rack up $245 billion in medical costs, lost work and wages. That's up from $174 billion in 2010. Some scientists project that the percentage of the population with diabetes could nearly triple by 2050, placing a heavy burden on the U.S. medical system. Together, we can prove them wrong.

For information on Diabetes Services at St. Mary's, call 816-655-5244.

Catherine Parkhurst, RN, MSN, CDE, is a diabetes educator at St. Mary's Medical Center in Blue Springs.