ORLANDO Fla. (Reuters) - More than one-third of adults in England have pre-diabetes, putting the country nearly on par with rates in the United States, according to a study released this week.
The pre-diabetes rate among English adults rose sharply from about 12 percent in 2003 to 35 percent in 2011, according to the study headed by Arch Mainous, a professor in the University of Florida's College of Public Health and Health Professions.
That compares to 36 percent of U.S. adults who are pre-diabetic, Mainous said.
"It came as a surprise to us," said Mainous. "I think it came as a surprise to them."
Mainous's co-author in the study, Richard Baker, professor of quality in healthcare at the University of Leicester, said the results should be taken as a wake-up call.
"The study is an important signal that we need to take action to improve our diet and lifestyles," Baker said in a statement. "If we don't, many people will have less healthy, shorter lives."
Pre-diabetes is defined as blood glucose concentrations higher than normal, but not high enough for a diabetes diagnosis, according to the University of Florida.
Pre-diabetics are at greater risk for vascular problems, kidney disease, and nerve and retinal damage. Between 5 and 10 percent of pre-diabetics transition to diabetes each year.
Mainous said the cause of the sharp rise in pre-diabetes is uncertain but likely related to a jump in obesity in England in the 1990s, a trend that began later than the obesity crisis in America.
"They were a little slower to get as fat," Mainous said.
He said metabolic changes due to obesity and a sedentary lifestyle are strongly linked to pre-diabetes.
The study, published in the journal BMJ Open, analyzed data collected in 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2011 by the Health Survey for England.
More than half of overweight English adults age 40 and older are pre-diabetic, the study found.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control reported on Tuesday that the number of American adults with diabetes has soared to 29 million, with another 86 million at high risk of developing the chronic disease.
If the trends continue, federal health officials predicted that one in five Americans could have diabetes by 2025 -- and one in three by 2050.
Editing by Kevin Gray and Leslie Adler