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347 Million Adults Now Have Diabetes

June 26, 2011

A major international study recently found that diabetes cases have more than doubled to 347 million cases since 1980, a number far larger than what experts previously thought and one that suggests costs of treating the disease will also skyrocket.

The research, published in the journal “ËœThe Lancet,’ reveals that from 1980 to 2008, diabetes has either risen or gone unchanged in every region of the world. The estimated number of diabetics is much higher than a previous projection that placed the number at 285 million worldwide.

In the new study, worked on with the help of the World Health Organization, researchers found that of the 347 million cases of diabetes in the world, 138 million exist in China and India and 36 million in the US and Russia.

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.

Diabetes occurs when the cells of the body are not able to take up sugar in the form of glucose. As a result, the amount of glucose in the blood is higher than normal. Over time, this can raise the risk of heart disease and stroke, and can cause kidney damage, nerve damage and harm the retinas. High blood glucose and diabetes are responsible for over three million deaths worldwide each year.

“Diabetes is becoming more common almost everywhere in the world,” said Majid Ezzati, from Britain’s Imperial College London, who led the study along with Goodarz Danaei from the Harvard School of Public Health in the United States.

“Unless we develop better programs 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 world,” added Danaei in the joint statement to Reuters.

The new study found that 70 percent of the rise in diabetes cases was due to population growth and ageing, with the other 30 percent due to higher prevalence. The proportion of adults with diabetes rose to 9.8 percent of men and 9.2 percent of women in 2008, compared with 8.3 percent of men and 7.5 percent of women in 1980.

“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,” said Ezzati.

“Unless we develop better programs 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 world,” added Danaei.

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 liter (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.

There are numerous treatments for diabetes available on the market, in both pill and injection. Global sales of diabetes medicines totaled $35 billion in 2010 and could rise to as much as $48 billion by 2015, according to analysis from drug research firm IMS Health.

The annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association in San Diego will play host to the presentment of new research on experimental drugs and ways to combine classes of drugs to better control blood sugar.

“This is a chronic, progressive condition,” said Dennis Urbaniak, vice president of Sanofi’s diabetes division. “What we are most worried about is the number of people out there with diabetes that is not optimally controlled.”

Diabetes has surged most in the Pacific Island nations, which now have the highest diabetes levels in the world, the study found. In the Marshall Islands, a third of all women and a quarter of all men have diabetes.

In the developed world, North America had the highest level of diabetes cases while Western Europe remained relatively small. Diabetes levels were the highest in United States, Greenland, Malta, New Zealand and Spain; and lowest in the Netherlands, Austria and France.

The study was carried out by an international collaboration of researchers, led by Professor Majid Ezzati and co-led by Dr. Goodarz Danaei, in collaboration with The World Health Organization and a number of other institutions.

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