The World Health Organisation says excessive weight, obesity, ageing, and population growth drove a nearly fourfold increase in worldwide cases of diabetes over the last quarter- century, affecting 422m people in 2014.
The UN health agency is calling for stepped-up measures to reduce risk factors for diabetes and improve treatment and care.
WHO director general Margaret Chan said: “We need to rethink our daily lives: To eat healthily, be physically active, and avoid excessive weight gain.”
WHO reported that 8.5% of the world population had diabetes two years ago, up from 108m, or 4.7%, in 1980.
The Geneva-based agency blamed the growing consumption of food and beverages high in sugar. Diabetes grew around the world, but increased most in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
The report says high blood sugar levels were behind 3.7m deaths globally each year and that Type 2 cases were fuelling the rise. It says 8.5% of adults worldwide now have diabetes, causing 1.5m deaths in 2012.
Ms Chan said: “Even in the poorest settings, governments must ensure that people are able to make these healthy choices and that health systems are able to diagnose and treat people with diabetes.”
The report says that the “epidemic of diabetes has major health and socioeconomic impacts, especially in developing countries”.
Complications from diabetes can lead to heart attack, stroke, blindness, kidney failure, and lower limb amputation.
The WHO study, which was led by scientists from Imperial College London and published in The Lancet, finds that diabetes has increased most dramatically in Pacific island nations, the Middle East, and North Africa. In Polynesia and Micronesia, where prevalence is highest, more than one in five adults have diabetes.
Professor Majid Ezzati, senior author of the study, from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, said: “This is the first time we have had such a complete global picture about diabetes — and the data reveals the disease has reached levels that can bankrupt some countries’ health systems.
“The enormous cost of this disease — to both governments and individuals — could otherwise go towards life essentials such as food and education.”
Professor Goodarz Danaei, co-lead author of the study from Harvard’s School of Public Health, said: “The most important risk factor for diabetes is obesity. Yet global obesity levels are soaring out of control.”
He added that genetics and foetal and early life conditions may play a role.
“There is increasing evidence that the interaction of genes and the environment plays a role in diabetes. For example, certain genotypes may increase the risk of diabetes especially in people with unhealthy lifestyles.
“In addition, inadequate nutrition during pregnancy and in early life may increase the risk of diabetes later in life.”
Libby Dowling, senior clinical adviser at Diabetes UK, said: “While this study attributes the increase in diabetes prevalence in Western Europe in part to an ageing population, it is crucial that we recognise the most important risk factor for Type 2 diabetes, which is being overweight or obese.”
She added: “This is crucial as, left untreated or poorly managed, Type 2 diabetes can lead to devastating but avoidable complications such as amputation, blindness and stroke.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved