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WHO: Diabetes Could Double in Developing Countries in Next 30 Years - 2003-11-13

The World Health Organization warns diabetes cases could double in developing countries in the next 30 years. WHO is marking World Diabetes Day by urging people to exercise more and eat better.

The World Health Organization estimates between 170 million and 180 million people around the world suffer from diabetes. WHO Medical Officer, Nigel Unwin, says that number will more than double by the year 2030, if preventive measures are not taken.

"There are roughly 115 million people with diabetes in developing countries at the moment and that will more than double over the next 20 to 30 years," he said. "In fact, it is worth saying that at the current point in time, there are more people with diabetes who live in the developing countries than in developed countries and that most of the increase that is anticipated for the next 20 to 30 years will occur in developing countries, not developed countries."

Diabetes is a chronic disease characterized by having too much glucose in the blood. This happens when the body does not produce insulin or does not use insulin properly. WHO says Type-2 diabetes, which is the most common form, used to be considered a disease of older people and rich countries. But, it says the majority of people with diabetes in Africa are between 45 and 64 years.

Dr. Unwin says diabetes is mainly found in urban centers in developing countries. He says the problem continues to increase as people move from the rural areas to the cities. He says the growing incidence of the disease in developing countries is due to changing lifestyles and to aging populations.

"It is the type of lifestyle that tends to go with urban living for most people," he said. "The change in work, which is often associated with less physical activity. So, a big decrease in physical activity, that is probably one of the most important things. Along side that, there is often a change in diets as well. So, urban living tends to go with increased high-density foods-food that is rich in refined sugars and rich in fats."

Dr. Unwin says diabetes among people in industrialized countries is also rising. He says more physical activity and eating a healthier, more balanced diet could prevent most cases of the disease.