Type two diabetes can be controlled with diet and exercise, which is part of the reason the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is putting out these estimates.
Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is among the estimated 24 million Americans who suffer from diabetes. That means their bodies are unable to properly turn blood sugar into energy.
Cutler was diagnosed only a few years ago, after he was already a professional athlete.
Cubs legend Ron Santo knew, but he kept his diabetes a secret until late in his baseball career.
In the last decade the disease has forced amputations of both his legs - one example of the deteriorating health issues diabetes can cause.
"Diabetes is the Number one cause of blindness in the elderly, the 1 cause of Kidney disease, the 1 cause of Amputations," said ABC News Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser.
An estimated one in ten Americans suffers from diabetes, but according to the CDC, that percentage could rise dramatically in the next few decades if people fail to make lifestyle changes. In fact, by the year 2050, one in three Americans could suffer from diabetes unless they improve their diets and exercise more.
"The increase in obesity is there," said University of Chicago diabetes educator Marla Solomon. "People are not exercising as recommended."
Jay Cutler and Ron Santo suffer from type one diabetes. 95 percent of diabetics have type two, which is most common in older people, minorities, and those who are seriously overweight.
Diabetes is also taking a toll on the economy. Health care costs for a person with diabetes are about twice as much as someone without the disease.
"If these figures hold true and if the number of people with diabetes actually triples, it has the capability to bankrupt our health care system," said Besser.
Several factors other than diet and exercise are behind the estimates. Aging baby boomers and changes in the population have a lot of impact, as does the fact that people with diabetes are living longer and more normal lives.
Related link: Step Out: Walk to Fight Diabetes