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Study Shows Diabetes Surging Worldwide

A new study shows that one in 10 adults, in countries throughout the world, suffers from diabetes
A new study shows that one in 10 adults, in countries throughout the world, suffers from diabetes

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Carol Pearson

The number of adults worldwide with diabetes has more than doubled in the past three decades - jumping to nearly 350 million.  And it continues to surge, according to a new study in the journal Lancet.  Researchers say much of this dramatic increase - in Pacific island countries, North America and some of the Gulf states - is due to aging populations and rapid population growth.  But part of it has also been driven by rising obesity rates, especially among young people.  

It's documented: diabetes is a global problem.  A new study shows that one in 10 adults, in countries throughout the world, suffers from diabetes.  

"What our study shows is that it is not any more [no longer] a disease of the affluent countries," said Goodarz Danaei, a researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health and one of the study's authors.

Researchers collected data on blood sugar levels from nearly three million people in 200 countries over a 30-year period.  Most of the participants had Type-2 diabetes, a disease linked to aging, obesity and inactivity.

People with diabetes cannot control their blood sugar levels.  This can lead to heart disease and stroke, disability and early death.

Even in countries where diabetes is not rampant, populations have increased and so, too, has the number of diabetics.

"Even if only two percent or one percent of the population is diabetic, but you have more than a billion people in your country, the sheer number of diabetes patients will drive the costs and resources that the health systems have to put into disease control and management," Dr. Danaei said.

Diabetes is one of the most expensive diseases to treat because it requires long term care - not just to regulate blood sugar levels, but to deal with its serious medical complications. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 70 percent of people with diabetes live in low and middle income countries.  Many people in these countries cannot afford to buy the medications they need to control their diabetes and neither can countries with already slim public health budgets.

"They have to find cost-effective ways to either prevent the disease or diagnose the disease at an earlier stage or treat the complication of diabetes in a much more effective manner," said Dr. Danaei.

This study confirms what doctors are already seeing in their clinics, doctors like Betul Hatipolu at the Cleveland Clinic.

"It is not a surprise for us," she said.  "When we practice every day, we see so many new cases, I'm not surprised at all."

The authors say countries need to aggressively promote healthy lifestyles. That's also what doctors who treat this disease are saying.

"I would just love to tell everybody that they have to exercise and they have to eat healthier, otherwise everyone is at risk to develop diabetes," Dr. Hatipolu said.

The study's authors say diabetes is likely to be one of the defining features of global health needs unless public health campaigns to prevent it are successful.

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