Singapore has the second-highest proportion of diabetics among developed nations, a new report by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) revealed.
It said 10.53 per cent of people in Singapore aged between 20 and 79 are estimated to have the chronic disease, after correcting for age differences between the countries. Only the United States fared worse, with a percentage of 10.75.
These results are worrying but not surprising, according to local doctors, as Singaporeans are becoming less active and eating more high-calorie diets, both of which increase the risk of diabetes.
"As our nation becomes more developed, our lifestyle also changes," said Dr Stanley Liew, an endocrinologist at the Raffles Diabetes and Endocrine Centre. "Singaporeans today are more sedentary and consume diets high in calories, just like the Americans."
The IDF's estimates for Singapore are similar to 2010 figures from the Ministry of Health, which report the diabetes prevalence for those aged between 18 and 69 at 11.3 per cent, or around one in 10 people.
ASIANS FACE HIGHER RISK
Although Asian people can look thin, we actually have a much higher percentage of body fat as compared with our Western counterparts.
DR BEN NG, vice-president of the Diabetic Society of Singapore
This is an increase from 4.7 per cent in 1984 and 9 per cent in 2004.
Topping the overall charts in the IDF's report were island nations with relatively small populations, such as Mauritius, where nearly one in five people has diabetes.
At the bottom were African nations such as Senegal, where only two in 100 people are estimated to have the disease.
"(The latter) is partly due to their higher prevalence of other diseases and lower life expectancy," said the IDF in a statement.
In the report, Singapore is ranked 62nd overall. Last year, it ranked 60th.
But experts say it is not just lifestyle, but genetics that affects one's chances of getting diabetes.
"Although Asian people can look thin, we actually have a much higher percentage of body fat as compared with our Western counterparts," said Dr Ben Ng, vice-president of the Diabetic Society of Singapore.
Said Dr Alvin Ng, who is a consultant endocrinologist at Mount Elizabeth Hospital: "In many cases, obesity leads to insulin-resistance, so obesity is a big driving factor behind diabetes."
Type 2 diabetes, which is most common here, occurs when the body is unable to produce enough insulin or use it properly.
But the outlook is not all bleak.
Dr Alvin Ng stressed that if people change their lifestyles "very aggressively" - such as by watching their diet and ramping up exercise - it is possible to reverse early type 2 diabetes.
"I think that younger people do realise about diabetes and its complications," added Dr Ben Ng, who is also a consultant endocrinologist at Arden Endocrinology Specialist Clinic. "However, lifestyle factors such as work, late hours and irregular meals make it hard for them to maintain a healthy lifestyle."