The authors predict a surge in type-2 diabetes in the coming years, with consequences for life expectancy and disability.
The charity Diabetes UK said the NHS was already spending one-tenth of its budget on the condition, BBC reported.
People with pre-diabetes have no symptoms of ill health, but their blood sugar levels are at the very high end of the normal range – on the cusp of diabetes.
Between 5% and 10% of people with pre-diabetes go on to develop type-2 diabetes each year, the researchers said.
Their study looked at Health Survey for England data between 2003 and 2011.
In 2003, 11.6% of adults surveyed had pre-diabetes, but the figures trebled to 35.3% by 2011.
Prof Richard Baker, one of the report’s authors from the University of Leicester, told the BBC: “The level of increased diabetes risk has gone up quite steeply, it has been rising in other countries, but it has leapt up faster in England than in the US – it’s a big jump really.
“A lot of people with type-2 diabetes manage their condition very well, but some are unlucky and get severe consequences quickly, it’s not a nice disease to have.”
Fellow researcher Dr Arch Mainous, from the University of Florida, added: “I think the huge rise was surprising, it was substantial.
“People are going to transition from these high-risk states to diabetes and there will be a lot of implications for people being sick and healthcare costs.”
Prof Baker said the health service had some good things in place, such as health checks for people over the age of 40.
But he argued a broader approach “either more regulation or getting the food industry to compete more on the healthiness of their products” was needed.
Around 3.2 million people in the UK have type-2 diabetes and the charity Diabetes UK estimates that figure will rise to 5 million by 2025.