More than 50% of Americans could have diabetes or prediabetes by 2020 at a cost of $3.35 trillion if current trends continue.

That is the claim of an analysis published by insurer UnitedHealth Group, called The United States of Diabetes: Challenges and Opportunities in the Decade Ahead. It notes that diabetes and prediabetes will account for an estimated 10% of total healthcare spending by the end of the decade at an annual cost of almost $500 billion, up from $194 billion this year.

According to data drawn from 10 million UnitedHealth members. annual health care costs in 2009 for a person with diagnosed diabetes averaged $11,700 compared to an average of $4,400 for the remainder of the population. That figure climbs to $20,700 for a person with complications related to diabetes.

Some 27 million Americans have diabetes and the report says that another 67 million are estimated to have prediabetes. It goes on to claim that one out of three children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetimes.

As for obesity and its relationship to diabetes. the analysis adds that with more than two-thirds of American adults and 17% of children overweight or obese, "the risk is clearly rising". Deneen Vojta, senior vice president of the UnitedHealth Center for Health Reform & Modernization, said that "because diabetes follows a progressive course, often starting with obesity...there are multiple opportunities to intervene early on and prevent this devastating disease before it's too late".

Simon Stevens, chairman of the aforementioned unit, said the research shows "there is a diabetes timebomb ticking in America, but fortunately there are practical steps that can be taken now to defuse it". He added that “what is now needed is concerted, national, multi-stakeholder action. Making a major impact on the prediabetes and diabetes epidemic will require health plans to engage consumers in new ways, while working to scale nationally some of the most promising preventive care models".

Mr Stevens concluded by saying that "done right, the human and economic benefits for the nation could be substantial".