Nearly a quarter of Texans could be diabetic in 30 years, report says

AUSTIN -- The number of Texas adults diagnosed with diabetes is projected to quadruple within 30 years, encompassing nearly a fourth of the state's population by 2040, according to a newly released report by the Texas Health Institute.

The impact will also be felt heavily throughout the Metroplex, according to the projections. In Tarrant County, the prevalence of diabetes will increase by 355 percent during the 30 years, affecting 658,438 residents, compared with 144,686 this year.

Tarrant County residents with diabetes could constitute 22 percent of the population in 2040, compared with 11 percent now, the report said.

"The numbers are shocking," said state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, chairwoman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. "It's even worse than what I had imagined.

Up to 8 million Texans could be diagnosed with diabetes in 2040, compared with 2.2 million in 2010, according to projections by the state demographer's office.

In releasing the findings at a State Capitol news conference, Nelson and other health experts called the spread of diabetes a healthcare crisis directly linked to rising obesity and poor nutrition.

Older people and Latinos, who make up the fastest-growing segments of the population, are among those most likely to be obese and have diabetes, the report said.

"I believe this is probably the biggest health issue facing us," said Nelson, whose district includes Tarrant and Denton counties.

The report also warned of dire financial consequences if the growth of diabetes remains unchecked. The cost of diabetes in Texas exceeds $12.5 billion annually -- $8.1 billion in excess medical expenditures and $4.4 billion in worker absenteeism, reduced productivity, unemployment and other indirect costs.

"If we do not stem or stop the current growth rate of diabetes, I am not sure that the healthcare system will be able to absorb or afford the projected 8 million adult Texans with diabetes in 2040," said Dr. Victor H. Gonzalez, chairman of the Texas Diabetes Council.

Nelson, who plans to introduce legislation to help deal with the problem, called for more emphasis on prevention and childhood nutrition and fitness to combat obesity.

The report outlined several recommendations, including improved screening and development of long-term strategy to help guide policymakers on fighting the disease.

Texas already has one of the highest incidences of diabetes. Diabetes more than doubled among young adults from 2004 to 2007, but all age categories and ethnic groups have reflected increases, according to the report.

The most common form is type II diabetes, which is often associated with obesity and accounts for 90 to 95 percent of current cases, according to the report. Historically diagnosed in adults, type II is now also being diagnosed in children, the study said.

Diabetes is largely self-treatable through daily insulin injections, blood glucose monitoring, medications, and improved diet and exercise.

Many diabetics lead relatively normal lives, the report said, but inadequate treatment or failure to diagnose the disease can result in serious consequences including heart attack, stroke and blindness.

Diabetes is particularly prevalent among low-income African-Americans and Hispanics, partly because of lack of education about proper nutrition, health experts said.

A fourth of African-Americans and Hispanics live in poverty, compared with 16 percent of the overall population, said Dr. Jean L. Raphael, professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital.

State Demographer Lloyd Potter said the projections, while dire, could be altered if health experts and government leaders take steps to combat the twin ills of obesity and diabetes. "Hopefully, it won't be our reality, but it's just a warning sign that we need to take action now," Potter said.

Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram's Austin bureau chief. 512-476-4294