Type 2 diabetes, a serious disease (especially if left untreated) that can result in amputations and lifelong complications, can usually be prevented through healthy diet and exercise, and that’s exactly what needs to happen, the World Health Organization (WHO) warns. The number of people with the condition has quadrupled in less than 40 years, with approximately 422 million people now suffering from the ailment.
The researchers behind the WHO study, released last year, shows one of the largest of diabetes trends to date. The agency notes how the aging population and increasing levels of obesity make the disease “a defining issue for global public health.”
Majid Ezzati, a professor at Imperial College London who led the WHO research, said:
“Obesity is the most important risk factor for type 2diabetes and our attempts to control rising rates of obesity have so far not proved successful.”
The study used data from 4.4 million adults in various regions of the world to estimate the prevalence of age-adjusted diabetes for 200 countries.
Researchers discovered that between 1980 and 2014, more men than women developed diabetes, and rates of the disease rose significantly in many low- and middle-income nations, including China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Egypt, and Mexico.
Shockingly, no significant decrease in diabetes was observed in any country.
The findings make it clear that there is an urgent need to address unhealthy lifestyles globally, as appropriately stated by Margaret Chan, the WHO’s director-general.
“If we are to make any headway in halting the rise indiabetes, we need to rethink our daily lives: to eat healthily, be physically active, and avoid excessive weight gain.”
Other findings of the study include:
- Northwestern Europe has the lowest rates of diabetes among both adult sexes, with age-adjusted prevalence lower than 4% among women, and about 5-6% among men in Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
- Pacific Island nations saw the largest increase in diabetes rates, followed by the Middle East and North Africa, in countries such as Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.
- Half of the adults with diabetes in 2014 lived in 5 countries – China, India, the United States, Brazil, and Indonesia.
- Rates of diabetes more than doubled for men in India and China between 1980 and 2014. 
- Nearly a quarter of adults in 2010 (18 and older) were classified as “insufficiently physically active.”
- 84% of female adolescents and 78% of male adolescents fall under the category of “insufficiently physically active.”
- In 2014, nearly 1 in 4 adults was overweight, and more than 1 in 10 were obese. 
The WHO said in its Global Diabetes Report that a “whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach” is needed to tackle diabetes, which racks up an estimated $827 billion annually in patient care and medicine.
Some of the risk factors for Type 2 diabetes are not modifiable, such as genetics, ethnicity, and age. But these risk factors do not mean an individual will go on to develop the disease. Each person can modify his or her diet and eating habits, and physical activity level to help fend off the disease.
The WHO said:
“At the individual level, intensive interventions to improve diet and physical activity can prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes in people at high risk.”
In the report, the WHO calls on government sectors to “systematically consider the health impact of policies in trade, agriculture, finance, transport, education and urban planning — recognizing that health is enhanced or obstructed as a result of policies in these and other areas.”
Dr. Etienne Krug, of the WHO, said:
“Diabetes is a silent disease, but it is on an unrelenting march that we need to stop. We can stop it, we know what needs to be done, but we cannot let it evolve like it does because it has a huge impact on people’s health, on families, and on society.”