Huge spike in number of adults with diabetes

Figure quadruples over 35 years as WHO calls for changes in eating, physical activity habits

GENEVA • The number of adults estimated to be living with diabetes has nearly quadrupled over 35 years, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said, urging huge efforts to change eating habits and increase physical activity.

"Globally, an estimated 422 million adults were living with diabetes in 2014, compared with 108 million in 1980," the UN health agency said in its first report on the condition yesterday, warning that it had spread because of changes "in the way people eat, move and live".

The condition directly caused 1.5 million deaths in 2012, but elevated blood glucose levels linked to diabetes were responsible for an additional 2.2 million deaths that year, the report said.

The region worst affected, with 131 million estimated cases in 2014, was the WHO's Western Pacific region, which includes China and Japan. The South-east Asia region - which includes India and Indonesia - was the next most affected, with 96 million cases. Europe and the Americas were third and fourth on the list, with 64 million and 62 million cases respectively.

Diabetes is divided into two types. There is no known way to prevent Type 1, which occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin. Most people living with diabetes have Type 2, associated with obesity and other lifestyle factors.

To curb the intensifying burden of the disease, huge efforts were needed to change "eating and physical activity habits", especially early in life, when key behavioural patterns are formed, the WHO said.

It noted that the spreading consumption of sugary drinks and other fattening foods was a key factor, but drew particular attention to the high rates of physical inactivity.

As with obesity, the WHO has stressed that putting excessive blame on individuals for eating too much or not exercising enough ignored several key factors, including the obstacles to eating healthily in several societies.

"Effectively addressing diabetes does not just happen. It is the result of collective consensus and public investment in interventions that are affordable, cost-effective and based on the best available science," WHO chief Margaret Chan said in a statement.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2016, with the headline 'Huge spike in number of adults with diabetes'. Subscribe