IDF Atlas: About 415 Million Adults Worldwide Have Diabetes

Miriam E Tucker

December 02, 2015

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — About 415 million adults have diabetes worldwide, or about one in every 11, according to the newly-released Diabetes Atlas, 7th edition, from the International Diabetes Federation (IDF).

The IDF released the full Diabetes Atlas with country-specific data on December 1 here at the World Diabetes Congress 2015; the atlas is published every 2 years.

The new estimate — which combines the diabetes types — reflects an increase of 31 million adults living with diabetes worldwide since the last atlas, published in 2013.

"The world is facing an unprecedented epidemic of diabetes," diabetologist David Cavan, MD, IDF director of policy and programs, said in a press briefing held during the Congress.

Incidence vs Prevalence

Also on December 1, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new data suggesting that the incidence of diabetes may actually be declining in the United States: After more than doubling from 1990 to 2008, the age-adjusted diabetes incidence among adults aged 18 to 79 years dropped significantly between 2008 and 2014, from 8.5 to 6.6 per 1000.

But according to the IDF atlas, the United States still has the highest prevalence of diabetes among developed nations, 11% of the population aged 20 to 79 years.

The CDC incidence data are not directly comparable to the prevalence data in the atlas as they're different measurements, IDF data analyst Katherine Ogurtsova, PhD, told Medscape Medical News.

Moreover, she said, "I don't think that we will have any downward trend in future prevalence if no dramatic changes occur. If this trend with the incidence persists for the next 10 years then, probably, we will see a leveling in the prevalence."

The diabetes prevalence is still rising in the United States even with fewer new cases, because the population overall is increasing and life-spans are lengthening in general, while diabetes-related mortality is declining, she explained.

Worldwide, a Growing Problem

And of course, the story is very different in other parts of the world.

According to Dr Cavan, "This increase in type 2 diabetes is associated with modern-day lifestyles, characterized by unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, and increasing obesity. If no action is taken, the IDF estimates that by 2040, there will be 642 million people living with diabetes, an increase of over 50% compared with today's figure."

Moreover, the IDF estimates that in 2015 five million people died from causes associated with having diabetes. "That is one death every 6 seconds, and more than all the deaths from malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV combined," said Dr Cavan.

The complications of diabetes also account for the staggering cost of treating diabetes, estimated at over $670 billion dollars a year, or more than the entire military spending by United States.

In addition to the 415 million with diabetes, the IDF estimates that 318 people have impaired glucose tolerance, and about 21 million women develop gestational diabetes.

No country is immune, Dr Cavan said, noting that 75% of people with diabetes live in low- and middle-income countries.

China and India have the highest total numbers of people with diabetes — 110 million and 69 million, respectively — whereas the highest prevalences were found in the Pacific Islands of Tokelu and Nauru, where respectively 30% and 24% of all adults are estimated to be living with diabetes.

After the United States, other developed nations with high diabetes prevalences include Singapore (10.5%), followed by Malta (10%), Portugal (10%), and Cyprus (9.5%).

Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait are all in the top 10, too, while the 10 countries with the lowest estimated rates of diabetes globally are all in Africa, in part due to their higher prevalence of other diseases and lower life expectancy.

The countries with the lowest estimated prevalence among the 38 total developed nations cataloged in the atlas were Lithuania, Estonia, and Ireland (all around 4%), followed by Sweden, Luxembourg, the United Kingdom, and Australia (all around 5%).

Canada, the host nation for the World Diabetes Congress, came in 12th highest for prevalence among developed nations, at 7%.

Burden Will Double in Middle East and Africa

"Over the next 25 years, the IDF predicts that the number of cases of diabetes in the Middle East and in Africa will more than double, putting not just health systems, but whole economies under strain," Dr Cavan said.

The IDF has been campaigning to convince governments worldwide to make changes to the food environment, in part by following the example of countries such as Mexico and others that have imposed taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages.

"The good news is that type 2 diabetes can be prevented by lifestyle change — by healthy eating and increasing physical activity. In announcing these figures, the IDF is encouraging everyone to make changes to their diet to reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

"Those same changes will also greatly help those who have diabetes — whether type 1 or type 2 — to achieve better control and reduce the risk of complications….We urge the world to act now to change tomorrow," he concluded.

Dr Cavan and Dr Ogurtsova have no relevant financial relationships.


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