The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said cases rose sharply across almost every demographic category, reports CBS News Reporter Ted Vigodsky. The rise is blamed largely on obesity, which was up a startling 57 percent from 1991.
"The message is out there - lose weight by increasing your physical activity and changing your diet," CDC epidemiologist Ali Mokdar said. "But nobody is doing it."
The share of the adult population diagnosed with diabetes jumped from about 6.5 percent in 1998 to 6.9 percent in 1999, the CDC said. The obesity rate increased to nearly one in five Americans - up from just 12 percent in 1991.
CDC director Jeffrey Koplan said the effect on the nation's health care costs will be overwhelming if the trends continue. "This dramatic new evidence signals the unfolding of an epidemic in the United States," he said.
The statistics, released Friday by the CDC, appear in the February issue of the journal Diabetes Care. The report is based on a telephone survey of 150,000 Americans.
At least 16 million Americans have diabetes, which prevents the body from regulating blood sugar. The number is expected to rise to 22 million by 2025.
Experts have blamed America's couch-potato culture for the obesity that leads to diabetes. Computer-centered lifestyles, easy fast food and disappearing space for outdoor exercise all have been cited.
In many cases, Mokdar said, Americans who do exercise don't do it often enough, and many cut fat from their diets without paying attention to crucial calories.
But preventing diabetes is fairly simple, according to the American Diabetes Association, which recommends physical exercise and a low-calorie, low-fat, high-fiber diet.
The CDC reported an especially large rise in the diabetes rate in 1999 among blacks - more than 10 percent in just one year. Whites, Hispanics and other racial groups also had higher rates in 1999.
The diabetes rate fell among only one age group from 1998 to 1999 - people in their 30s. But that age group saw a huge rise from 1990 to 1998, up about 70 percent.
"This used to be a disease that came late in life," Mokdar said. "Now it's coming in kids as young as the early 20s. That's alarming."
Dr. Robert Sherwin, president of the American Diabetes Association, said he expects the problem to get worse over the next several years.
"The American way of life tends to favor inactivity," he said. "We're going to need a major education program in the schools to reverse this."
©MMI Viacom Internet Services Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report