The number of people worldwide suffering from diabetes increased almost four-fold between 1980 and 2014, according to a new report released by the World Health Organization (WHO). This alarming spike in diabetes cases appears to be driven largely by lifestyle changes, particularly in middle- and low-income countries, where the increased availability to fatty and sugary foods has transformed people’s diets for the worse.
According to the report, an estimated 422 million adults were living with diabetes in 2014, compared with 108 million in 1980. Taking into account the rise in global populations over this period, the actual prevalence of diabetes has jumped from 4.7 percent to 8.5 percent – almost doubling.
Diabetes can occur in two forms: type 1 diabetes, whereby the body cannot produce enough insulin, and type 2 diabetes, which results from the body’s inability to use insulin efficiency. A vital hormone produced in the pancreas, insulin plays a key role in regulating blood sugar levels by enabling cells to absorb glucose from the bloodstream.
When this process is disrupted, blood glucose levels can become dangerously high, resulting in a range of potentially fatal consequences such as kidney failure or cardiovascular complications. According to the WHO report, 1.5 million people died from diabetes-related conditions in 2012, while a further 2.2 million deaths were caused by high blood glucose levels.
Previously, type 2 diabetes was only associated with adults, and was rarely seen in people younger than 40. However, a disturbing increase in the number of children suffering from type 2 diabetes has brought home the dangers of modern lifestyle changes.
This form of diabetes can be provoked by a number of factors, such as obesity and high sugar and fat intake. There is also evidence that children are particularly at risk of developing the condition later in life if they are overweight or inactive during their infant years.
“Early in life, when eating and physical activity habits are formed and when the long-term regulation of energy balance may be programmed, there is a critical window for intervention to mitigate the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life,” the report suggests.
As such, it goes on to make a number of recommendations as to how the risk of diabetes can be reduced. Achieving this, however, can only be achieved by taking a “whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach, in which all sectors systematically consider the health impact of policies in trade, agriculture, finance, transport, education and urban planning.”
For instance, the report recommends that healthy eating and regular exercise should be promoted in schools and in homes, while the encouragement of cycling and walking by urban planners can also play a part in curbing this shocking rise in diabetes.
Adopting a “life-course perspective” is recommended, with parents encouraged to ensure their children live a healthy lifestyle from a very young age in order to reduce their risk of diabetes later in life.
The report also found that the rise in diabetes cases appears to be particularly marked in lower income nations, whereas previously it had been mostly associated with high-income countries. This is particularly alarming since insulin is often unavailable or unaffordable in many of the world’s more impoverished regions, meaning sufferers of the condition may face an increased risk of further complications.