What is diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus is a group of diseases characterized by high levels of blood glucose resulting from decreased insulin production, insulin action, or both. Diabetes can be associated with serious complications and premature death, but people with diabetes can take steps to control the disease and lower the risk of complications. Type 2 diabetes may account for about 90% to 95% of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. It usually begins as insulin resistance, a disorder in which the cells do not use insulin properly. The pancreas gradually loses its ability to produce insulin as the need for insulin rises.

Research studies conducted over a six-year period, in the United States and abroad, found that lifestyle changes can prevent or delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes among high-risk adults. In the studies, participants made lifestyle changes such as improving their diet and pursuing moderate-intensity physical activities (such as walking for two and a half hours each week). For participants of both sexes and all age and racial groups, the development of diabetes was reduced 40% to 60%.

In the year 2000, the age-adjusted prevalence of diabetes was:

On average, American Indians and Alaska Natives are 2.6 times more likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic whites of similar age.*

For more information, go to the CDC Diabetes Fact Sheet.

*Source: 1997-1999 National Health Interview Survey and 1988-1994 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey estimates projected to year 2000-from 1998 Indian Health Service Outpatient Database.