(NaturalNews) In another sign that America is losing its battle of bulging waistlines, new data indicates that the teenage diabetes rate has doubled, as other health risks have also remained dangerously high.
Researchers with the American Diabetes Association, as well as other groups, said the number of teens with diabetes or pre-diabetes soared from 9 percent to 23 percent over the past decade.
In addition, researchers said, other cardiovascular-related risk factors such as high blood pressure and elevated rates of bad cholesterol, though stable during the same period, were still found to be disturbingly high.
The news comes as the nation continues to struggle with related issues like obesity rates - which are also skyrocketing - and rising healthcare costs, related to each of these problems.
"This has serious long-term public health implications for this country," said Dr. Vivian Fonseca, President of Medicine and Science with the ADA. "We're likely to see a lot of people get diabetes and have cardiovascular events at a relatively young age over the next 10 to 20 years."
Exploding rates of diabetes
The new research, which was published in the journal Pediatrics the week of May 21, examined some 3,400 kids and young adults aged 12 - 19 who participated in the Centers for Disease Control's National Health Examination Survey, which is used to track the overall health of all Americans.
The percentage of teens that were overweight didn't change much between 1999 through the end of 2008, the survey said, remaining around the current range of about 34 percent. In addition, the frequency and occurrence of hypertension and pre-hypertension remained stable at about 14 percent. High levels of bad "LDL" cholesterol also remained constant at 22 percent, the survey said.
But the occurrence of diabetes and pre-diabetes rose dramatically, from 9 percent of the surveyed population in 1999-2000 to 23 percent in 2007-2008, a little less than 10 years later.
That's not just significant, that's serious.
"I am reassured that at least we haven't seen a continuing rise in the rate of childhood obesity," Dr. Lori Laffel, chief of pediatrics at the Joslin Diabetes Center and a professor at Harvard Medical School, said.
"I am reassured that most of the cardiovascular risk factors the researchers looked at have not increased. But it is concerning that it looks like the rates of pre-diabetes and diabetes have more than doubled over that 10-year period," she added.
Some good news, but not enough
Laffel said the current results would need to be validated with additional research before any real public policy changes are implemented. That's because the results are atypical in that, despite steady obesity rates, the prevalence of diabetes has risen. She and other researchers want to know why and how, since obesity increases resistance to insulin and impairs glucose tolerance.
Still, overall, the new study does reaffirm the link between obesity and cardiovascular problems.
Just about half of overweight teens and more than 60 percent of obese participants in the study had at least one cardiovascular risk factor, a discovery that researchers felt was "concerning, given growing evidence demonstrating that cardiovascular risk factors present during childhood may persist into adulthood."
Pre-hypertension (high blood pressure) and high amounts of bad cholesterol was the most common combination of risk factors among overweight and obese teens. Both can increase risk of heart disease earlier in life than normal.
"This really speaks to the need for pediatricians to be vigilant about following screening recommendations, especially for obese and overweight teens," study co-author Ashleigh May, with the CDC's Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, said.
"We do see these risk factors are high for all youth, not just overweight and obese youth," she said, adding that 35 percent of teens whose weight was considered normal also had at least one risk factor.
Get your kids off the couch!
Mitigating the risks isn't as difficult as it might seem, researchers have said for years, noting that even moderate lifestyle changes can dramatically decrease risk factors. Scores of earlier studies have shown that simply eating less fat as well as smaller portions of foods containing fewer calories, combined with 20-30 minutes of exercise daily, people can reduce their risk of developing diabetes by almost 60 percent.
That's also significant.
"We do know that we can slow or even halt the progression of pre-diabetes and diabetes," Fonseca said.
But if nothing is done, the consequences for the future will be severe.
"This is telling us that there is a very high prevalence of obesity-related problems in people in the age group 12 to 19. That's something we used to see only in people in their 40s," Fonseca said.
"What this really means is that people are going to get serious health issues when they're in the prime of their lives."