In one of the largest studies to date of diabetes trends, the researchers said aging populations and rising levels of obesity across the world mean diabetes is becoming "a defining issue for global public health."
"Obesity is the most important risk factor for Type 2 diabetes and our attempts to control rising rates of obesity have so far not proved successful," said Majid Ezzati, a professor at Imperial College London who led the WHO research.
- Obesity rate predicted to reach 20% by 2025
It found that between 1980 and 2014, diabetes has become more common among men than women, and rates of diabetes rose significantly in many low and middle income countries, including China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Egypt and Mexico.
The study found that northwestern Europe has the lowest rates of diabetes among women and men.
"The lack of rise of diabetes in Western European countries and some other developed countries, including Canada, interestingly, in the recent years was quite interesting," Prof. Goodarz Danaei, co-lead author of the study and an assistant professor of global health at Harvard Chan School, said in an interview with CBC News.
No country saw any meaningful decrease in diabetes prevalence, it found.
The researchers estimated the global cost of diabetes at $825 billion US dollars per year. In Canada in 2014, the costs to the health system directly was $8 billion US, Danaei said.
Dr. Jan Hux, the chief science officer at the Canadian Diabetes Association, said in this country, people with diabetes account for:
- 30% of strokes.
- 40% of heart attacks.
- 50% of kidney failure requiring dialysis.
- 70% of amputations.
"I have had patients tell me, 'Oh doctor, I don't have diabetes. I just have a little sugar.' This is far more than a little sugar if you look at the downstream consequences," Hux said.
Hux said the biggest concern is that rates of diabetes are now becoming unsustainable in countries that can't afford to manage it.
The largest increases in diabetes rates were in Pacific island nations, followed by the Middle East and North Africa, in countries like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Danaei said the increases there were because of the "usual offenders:" higher intakes of energy dense-food such as fried starches, as well as lower physical activity among people who are moving to urban areas and adopting sedentary lifestyles.