A recent study of youth in the United States shows that the rate of diabetes is growing, particularly among Caucasians. As VOA's Sean Maroney reports from an American Medical Association's briefing in New York, new evidence reveals a potential worldwide problem.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that globally there are 1.6 billion overweight adults. That figure is expected to increase by 40 percent over the next decade.

A WHO study lists the United States among the top ten nations with overweight populations. Doctors warn that obesity can lead to serious health problems, including diabetes, heart disease and arthritis.

Mary Savoye works at the Yale Pediatric Obesity and Diabetes Clinic at Yale University. She says the prevalence of childhood obesity in the United States has risen dramatically over the last three to four decades. "We have a major pediatric health care challenge on our hands. We know that these chronic conditions starting in childhood go on to adulthood," she said.

After a recent study of U.S. inner-city youth, Savoye reports that the lifestyle and diets of these kids leads to rapid weight gain.

As a result, type-2 diabetes, a type normally found in the middle-aged and elderly, is becoming more common among children, especially minorities.

Dr. Dana Dabelea leads a U.S. study of childhood diabetes called "SEARCH for Diabetes in Youth."

She says that although the United States leads the world in instances of type-2 diabetes among children, it could foreshadow a much greater global problem.

"There is type-2 diabetes in Indian children. There is type-2 diabetes in Pakistani children. So the least affected race is actually the Caucasian race in terms of type-two diabetes. So poorer countries, if they study this, will document probably high rates of type-two diabetes in youth," she said.

Diabetes is growing at a faster pace in Asia than anywhere else in the world. Experts attribute the increase to growing middle classes adopting Western lifestyles. In India alone, more than 35 million people are estimated to have the disease, more than any other country worldwide.

And Yale University's Mary Savoye says if more people suffer from diabetes earlier in life, it could lead to greater complications down the road. "Years ago type-2 diabetes was diagnosed at the age of 40. Now children are being diagnosed at 15 and 16 years old. If it takes ten years to develop complications, now you're talking that a 26-year-old has the complications of maybe someone who is 50 before if it took the same ten years," she said.

People with diabetes have trouble transforming blood sugar into energy for their bodies. A build-up of sugar in the bloodstream can lead to heart disease, kidney damage and blindness.