Global diabetes epidemic escalating — 350 million adults affected
15 July 2011
A major international study collating and analyzing worldwide
data on diabetes since 1980 has found that the number of adults with the
disease reached 347 million in 2008, more than double the number in
The research, published in The Lancet, reveals that the
prevalence of diabetes has risen or at best remained unchanged in
virtually every part of the world over the last three decades.
Diabetes occurs when the cells of the body are not able to take
up sugar in the form of glucose. As a consequence, the amount of
glucose in the blood is higher than normal. Over time, this raises
the risk of heart disease and stroke, and can also cause damage to
the kidneys, nerves and retinas. High blood glucose and diabetes are
responsible for over three million deaths worldwide each year.
The new study found that between 1980 and 2008, the number of
adults with diabetes rose from 153 million to 347 million. Seventy
per cent of the rise was due to population growth and ageing, with
the other 30 per cent due to higher prevalence. The proportion of
adults with diabetes rose to 9.8 per cent of men and 9.2 per cent of
women in 2008, compared with 8.3 per cent of men and 7.5 per cent of
women in 1980.
The estimated number of diabetics was considerably higher than a
previous study in 2009 which put the number worldwide at 285
The study, the largest of its kind for diabetes, was carried out
by an international collaboration of researchers, led by Professor
Majid Ezzati from Imperial College London and co-led by Dr. Goodarz
Danaei from the Harvard School of Public Health, in collaboration
with The World Health Organization and a number of other
Professor Majid Ezzati, from the School of Public Health at
Imperial College London, said "Diabetes is one of the biggest causes
of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Our study has shown that
diabetes is becoming more common almost everywhere in the world.
This is in contrast to blood pressure and cholesterol, which have
both fallen in many regions. Diabetes is much harder to prevent and
treat than these other conditions."
Dr. Goodarz Danaei, from the Harvard School of Public Health,
added "Unless we develop better programmes for detecting people with
elevated blood sugar and helping them to improve their diet and
physical activity and control their weight, diabetes will inevitably
continue to impose a major burden on health systems around the
To test whether or not someone has diabetes, doctors measure the
levels of glucose in a patient's blood after they have not eaten for
12 to 14 hours, since blood sugar rises after a meal. A "fasting
plasma glucose" (FPG) below 5.6 millimoles per litre (mmol/L) is
considered normal, above 7 mmol/L is diagnostic of diabetes and an
FPG level between 5.6 and 7 is considered pre-diabetes.
The study included blood sugar measurements from 2.7 million
participants aged 25 years or more across the world and used
advanced statistical methods for analyzing data. According to the
results, average fasting sugar rose from 5.3 mmol/L in men and 5.2
mmol/L in women in 1980 to 5.5 mmol/L in men and 5.4 mmol/L in women
in 2008, even after accounting for age differences over time.
The study also found that:
- Diabetes has taken off most dramatically in Pacific Island
nations, which now have the highest diabetes levels in the
world. In the Marshall Islands, one in three women and one in
four men have diabetes. Glucose and diabetes were also
particularly high in south Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean,
Central Asia, North Africa and the Middle East.
- Among high-income countries, the rise in diabetes was
relatively small in Western Europe and highest in North America.
Diabetes and glucose levels were highest in USA, Greenland,
Malta, New Zealand and Spain, and lowest in the Netherlands,
Austria and France.
- Of the 347 million people with diabetes, 138 million live in
China and India and another 36 million in the USA and Russia.
- The region with the lowest glucose levels was sub-Saharan
Africa, followed by east and southeast Asia.
Funding for the study came from the Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation and the World Health Organisation.
1. National, regional, and global trends in fasting plasma glucose
and diabetes prevalence since 1980: systematic analysis of health
examination surveys and epidemiological studies with 370
country-years and 2.7 million participants. The Lancet,
published online 25 June 2011. DOI:10.1016/S0140-6736(11)60679-X
2. The Global Burden of Metabolic Risk Factors of Chronic
Diseases Collaborating Group: