The CDC’s latest numbers on diabetes confirm that the disease is skyrocketing in the U.S.

Seven out of 1,000 U.S. adults aged 18-79 years were newly diagnosed with diabetes in 2003. That’s 41 percent higher than the number in 1997 (five new cases out of 1,000 people).

The numbers were reported by the CDC’s Linda Geiss and colleagues in San Diego, at the American Diabetes Association’s 65th Annual Scientific Sessions.

Those figures are just the tip of the iceberg. About 18 million people of all ages in the U.S. have diabetes, according to CDC estimates from 2002. That includes 13 million who know they have the disease, plus 5 million more that have not been diagnosed.

Read Web MD's "Newly Diagnosed with Diabetes? Start Here."

Diabetes, Obesity Often Linked

Geiss and colleagues took a closer look at people who were newly diagnosed from 1997-2003. They found the highest incidences in older people (aged 65-79 years) and people with excess weight.

In 2003, nearly nine out of 10 people newly diagnosed with diabetes were obese or overweight.

About 59 percent were obese; another 30 percent were overweight but not obese. Overweight is defined as a body mass index or BMI of 25-29.99; a BMI of 30-39.99 is obese, and 40 or higher is morbid obesity.

It’s not known if the disease is truly increasing among overweight and obese people, or if the increase is due to better detection or changes in diagnostic standards. The American Diabetes Association lowered the fasting blood sugar (glucose) threshold in 1997 to indicate a diabetes diagnosis from 140 to 126 milligrams per deciliter.

In a news release, the American Diabetes Association says diagnostic changes may “in part” be involved in rapid increase. “But it’s also a real change in disease incidence due to increasing obesity in the U.S.,” says the news release.

Read Web MD's "Important Tips for Diabetes Prevention."

The Good News

An active lifestyle and good nutrition can cut diabetes risk. A healthy lifestyle and medical care can also help manage diabetes.

As the CDC points out, millions of people have diabetes and don’t know it. It’s important to find out if you have diabetes or related conditions, such as the metabolic syndrome, which raises the risk of heart disease and stroke, among other health problems.

While diabetes is still most common among the elderly, it can affect people of any age, including children and teens.

Read Web MD's "Diabetes Diagnosis Is Traumatic for Parents."

Visit WebMD's "Diabetes Health Center."

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Charlotte Grayson, MD

SOURCES: American Diabetes Association 65th Annual Scientific Sessions, San Diego, June 10-14, 2005. News release, American Diabetes Association.