More than one in three people in the United States have prediabetes, a condition that can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes if crucial lifestyle changes and interventions aren’t implemented.

Prediabetics have blood sugar levels that are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

prediabetes

It’s estimated that 90 percent of the 86 million Americans living with prediabetes don’t even know they have it. Up to 30 percent of these individuals will develop diabetes within five years.

To raise awareness, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American Diabetes Association (ADA), and American Medical Association (AMA) have partnered with the Ad Council to create a public service advertising (PSA) campaign that encourages Americans to learn if they are at risk for the condition — and what to ask their healthcare providers if they are.

Read More: More Than Half of Americans Have Diabetes or Prediabetes »

Using Humor, Tests to Get Out the Message

According to the CDC, 37 percent of Americans over the age of 20 have prediabetes — that’s more than a third of the population.

“I think the scary thing is that this really touches everyone. One in three could be your brother or sister, your best friend or partner,” said Lisa Sherman, president and chief executive officer of the Ad Council, in a press release.

The campaign includes humorous PSAs with the message, “No one is excused from diabetes.”

A short online test at DoIHavePrediabetes.org allows people to learn their risk, and the CDC’s National Diabetes Prevention Program connects visitors to a registry of programs that help people access resources and support groups all over the country.

“We need to communicate a sense of urgency — that it’s time to take action,” said Ann Albright, Ph.D., R.D., director of the CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation in a press release. “By participating in a CDC-recognized diabetes prevention program, people with prediabetes can learn practical, real-life changes and cut their risk for developing type 2 diabetes by 58 percent.”

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Diabetes Can Be Life Threatening

Although the obesity and diabetes epidemics receive a great deal of media attention in the United States, many individuals aren’t clear on why a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes is so debilitating and, eventually, life-threatening.

Diabetes has become so common that some healthcare providers worry it’s now normalized. If a patient’s father, aunt, and cousin all have the disease, getting diagnosed with diabetes might not seem like such a big deal.

Dr. Andrew W. Gurman, president-elect of the AMA, told Healthline why diabetes is such a serious diagnosis.

“Type 2 diabetes is one of the leading causes of blindness, heart attack, stroke, and disability in our country today,” Gurman said. “The mechanisms are very complex, but the fact that there is too much sugar in the bloodstream leads to effects in blood vessels, and it causes the arteries to harden and thicken, and everything else in diabetes stems from that.”

Gurman said that’s why diabetics can get ulcers that won’t heal in the peripheral arterial system as well as arteries in the brain that cause stroke.

Damage within the heart muscle can lead to heart attacks.

In addition to heart attacks and strokes, uncontrolled diabetes can lead to amputation of limbs, blindness, and kidney failure. Diabetics can lose sensation in their fingers and toes, which can be painful and leave them vulnerable to burns or frostbite.

In 2012, diabetes cost the healthcare system an estimated $245 billion.

According to the CDC, one in six Americans over the age of 45 will be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. After age 65, the ratio jumps to one in four.

Dr. Gurman explained, in part, why those numbers are so high in the U.S.

“There’s an obesity epidemic and we live a sedentary lifestyle and we eat things that are not very good for us,” he said. “That’s why 86 million people have prediabetes and that’s what we’re trying to change.”

Read More: What’s Best for Your Lifestyle If You Have Prediabetes »

Knowledge of Prediabetes is Diabetes Prevention

In raising awareness about prediabetes, the Ad Council and healthcare organizations involved in the PSA campaign hope to empower people to learn about their own risk for developing type 2 diabetes as well as take the appropriate actions to prevent it.

The CDC and AMA have also developed professional resources to help physicians learn more about prediabetes. That can be found at preventdiabetesstat.org.

The website encourages healthcare providers to “Screen, Test, and Act Today” to find and educate those patients who are unknowingly prediabetic.

Basic lifestyle changes such as routine exercise, quitting smoking, and dietary changes can significantly reduce the risk of developing the disease, especially among those over age 65.

“With the appropriate lifestyle changes, we have a 70 percent chance of reducing risk in seniors,” Gurman said. “The older you get, the better the chances are that the interventions will help.

But even in those of younger ages, what we do know is that the interventions we use to reduce that chance of developing diabetes are measurable, real, and significant.”