Diabetes affects 24 million Americans and an increasing number of children. It can lead to limb loss and heart attacks. Yet people are more afraid of snakes and flying.

In an online survey by the American Diabetes Association (ADA), conducted in August and released today, people revealed far greater fear of events that are much less likely to affect them. Percentage of respondents who fear:

  • Being in a plane crash: 16 percent
  • Snake bites: 13 percent
  • Being hit by lightning: 5 percent
  • A shark attack: 4 percent
  • Getting a disease: 5 percent.

Further, when asked specifically about diseases, 49 percent reported a fear of cancer, and only 3 percent cited a fear of diabetes.

Ironically, one in ten adults reports having been diagnosed with diabetes, while just 6 percent have been diagnosed with cancer, according to the ADA.

"While the impact of a shark attack, lightning strike or plane crash may be more immediate, the reality is, the consequences of mismanaged diabetes can have equally severe consequences that include loss of limbs or even death," the ADA stated. "In fact, 491 deaths related to commercial aviation accidents happened in 2007 whereas diabetes contributed to 233,619 deaths in 2005."

Diabetes can lead to heart attack, stroke, kidney disease and blindness.

And, the association notes, many diabetes cases could be prevented if people exercised and ate healthy diets.

Diabetes is growing at an alarming rate with nearly 24 million children and adults living with it and another 57 million Americans at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Since 1987, death rates due to diabetes have continued to rise, while the death rates for heart disease, stroke and cancer have declined.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if present trends continue, 1 in 3 children born today will develop diabetes in their lifetime.

"We can no longer sit back and politely tap people on the shoulder to get their attention. The future of our country – and the future of our children – is at stake," said ADA spokesperson Ann Albright. "The good news is there are steps people with diabetes can take to manage their disease and prevent or delay these serious and deadly complications from developing."

Online surveys tend no to be as reliable as more formal polling methods. This one was conducted by Harris Interactive and included 2,424 U.S. residents aged 18 or older.