Global Diabetes Rates to Soar From 529 Million to 1.3 Billion by 2050

The Rising Tide of Diabetes

Researchers from the University of Washington, Seattle, have described the projected figures as ‘alarming’, warning of an impending wave of heart disease and stroke cases. They predict that over 96 percent of these cases will be type 2 diabetes, a form of the condition commonly associated with obesity and lifestyle.

The study, published in The Lancet, analysed diabetes rates for 204 countries and territories worldwide from 1990 to 2021. These figures were then used to estimate the global surge in diabetes rates by 2050. The researchers found that one in ten people would have diabetes within the next three decades, compared to six percent currently.

Diabetes Rates Across the Globe

In the United States, rates have risen by more than 160 percent since the 1990s. By 2050, it is estimated that up to 14 percent of citizens will have the condition. Similarly, in the UK, rates are projected to rise from six percent in the 1990s to up to 14 percent over the next three decades.

The sharpest increases in diabetes rates are expected in North Africa and the Middle East, rising from nine to nearly 17 percent of people. Latin America and the Caribbean follow closely, with the proportion of people predicted to have diabetes reaching 11.3 percent.

The Driving Factors Behind the Rise

The surge will be almost entirely driven by type 2 diabetes, linked to lifestyle, while rates for type 1 diabetes, linked to genetics, are set to remain stable. Scientists estimate that about half of the new diabetes cases can be attributed to obesity. However, the other half may be related to factors such as age, poor diet, or even air pollution.

People over 65 years old are more at risk of developing the disease due to decreased muscle mass, which helps maintain insulin sensitivity, and reduced activity levels. Some studies have also suggested that air pollution could cause type 2 diabetes, as particles may trigger inflammation in the body that could make cells more resistant to insulin.

The Complex Challenge of Diabetes

Dr Liane Ong, an epidemiologist behind the paper, emphasised the complexity of preventing and controlling diabetes. She highlighted the role of genetics, as well as logistical, social, and financial barriers within a country’s structural system, especially in low and middle-income countries.

Co-author Dr Lauryn Stafford, a diabetes expert also from Washington, stressed the importance of understanding the conditions in which people are born and live that create disparities worldwide. These inequities impact people’s access to screening and treatment and the availability of health services.

The Impact of Diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects how the body turns food into energy. In diabetes, the body doesn’t produce enough insulin, causing too much blood sugar to remain in the bloodstream. This condition requires constant monitoring of blood sugar levels to prevent them from getting too low or too high.

Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can lead to nerve damage, resulting in loss of feeling or blindness. Studies suggest that people with diabetes are three times more likely to have a heart attack and 20 times more likely to need a leg amputation. They are also at higher risk of suffering a stroke, heart disease, kidney failure, or even Alzheimer’s.

The study in The Lancet was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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