The number of adults with diabetes worldwide has more than quadrupled since 1980, rising from 108 million to 422 million in 2014, according to a new study published in The Lancet. If trends continue, the number of adults with diabetes will surpass 700 million by 2025, the authors predicted.
The figures were announced by the World Health Organization (WHO), which is focusing its advocacy on diabetes for this year’s World Health Day on April 7, 2016. WHO issued its first Global Report on Diabetes, highlighting the need to increase efforts to prevent and treat the disease. Diabetes and its complications account for more than 2 million deaths every year, and are the seventh leading cause of disability worldwide.
The Lancet study, a report from the WHO Global NCD (non-communicable diseases) Risk Factor Surveillance project, looked at data from 751 studies that spanned 146 countries and territories throughout the world. “This study provides the lengthiest and most complete estimates of trends in adult diabetes prevalence worldwide,” the authors wrote. The prevalence of diabetes increased from 4.3 percent to 9 percent in men in the past 35 years, and from 5 percent to 7.9 percent in women.
The study also identified countries with the highest rates of diabetes. Prevalence of diabetes was highest in Polynesia and Micronesia (at 20 percent), followed by the Middle East and north African countries, at about 15 percent. Rates were lowest in Northwestern and Southwestern Europe, where rates remained steady in women over the 35 year period and only slightly increased in men.
Half of adults with diabetes in 2014 lived in five countries: China, India, the United States, Brazil, and Indonesia. More low-income and middle-income countries, including Indonesia, Pakistan, Mexico, and Egypt, made the list of the top ten countries with most adults with diabetes.
The rise in diabetes is directly associated with an increase in obesity, the authors wrote. Obesity has increased significantly in low-income and middle-income countries. These countries often have less resources and education to help prevent diabetes and treat it in its earliest stages.
If trends continue, by 2025 the prevalence of diabetes will be nearly 13 percent in men and 10.4 percent in women. This trend is at odds with the goals of the 2015 United Nations General Assembly, in which countries agreed to take action to reduce premature mortality from non-communicable diseases by one third by the year 2030.
The probability of meeting the global diabetes target for men is lower than 1 percent and for women it is 1 percent, the authors wrote.
Preventing people from becoming overweight or obese is a priority for reducing type 2 diabetes, according to the WHO’s Global Report on Diabetes. Likewise, providing education and healthcare to women prior to and during pregnancy can help reduce risks of diabetes, many of which can start in the womb. The WHO advocates breastfeeding, healthy diet and physical activity in childhood and adolescence, along with a long list of actions that governments and public health organizations can do to reduce obesity and diabetes.
"The best thing people who are living in poorly resourced settings can do to better manage their diabetes is to take advantage of peer education and share knowledge with each other about tips to manage diabetes in their communities, gravitate toward lower carbohydrate foods and/or try to eat more frequent and smaller meals to help prevent glucose spikes, and get exercise whenever they can," advises Jason Baker, M.D. assistant professor of clinical medicine and attending endocrinologist at Cornell Medical College in New York. "Regardless of consistent access to medications and supplies and where in the world a person with diabetes may live, the triad of a strong supportive community, a lower/small portion carbohydrate diet and consistent exercise are cornerstones to good diabetes care."