According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of cases of adults living with diabetes has nearly quadrupled over the past 35 years.
WHO is now urging people to alter their eating habits and exercise more in an effort to curb the number of adults afflicted with the deadly and costly disease.
According to the agency under the United Nations umbrella, the number of adults with the disease numbered 108 million in 1980 and surged to 422 million by 2014.
WHO said in its first-ever global report on diabetes that the surge in cases can be explained by the “way people eat, move and live,” according to AFP.
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The report estimates that 8.5 percent of the world’s adults now have diabetes, compared to 4.7 percent in 1980.
Etienne Krug, the lead investigator in WHO’s response to the disease, said diabetes has become one of “the leading killers in the world today.”
While diabetes contributed to 1.5 million deaths in 2012, according to the latest available global figures, the report concludes that elevated blood glucose levels linked to diabetes were responsible for an additional 2.2 million deaths that year.
Perhaps surprisingly, the worst affected area — with an estimate of 131 million cases in 2014 — came from the Western Pacific region, which includes China and Japan, according to Reuters.
Coming in second as the most affected area was the Southeast Asia region, which includes India and Indonesia, with 96 million cases.
In third was Europe, with 64 million adults affected, and the Americas came fourth on the list, with 62 million cases.
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The WHO estimated that the annual global cost of diabetes, including health care needs, exceeds $827 billion.
The agency, citing a separate report, said the global GDP losses linked to diabetes could reach $1.7 trillion by 2030.
There are two types of diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is inherited and occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, which is the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. There is no known prevention for this type of diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes has become the most common type of diabetes and is associated with obesity and other lifestyle factors and emerges in adults later in life. Doctors are seeing an alarming increase in childhood type 2 diabetes, again attributed to diet and lifestyle.
According to WHO figures, one in four adults were overweight in 2014, while one in 10 were considered obese.
In order to stop the rise in diabetes, the WHO is urging immediate changes in eating habits and exercise, especially earlier in life, according to the report.
“There is a critical window for intervention to mitigate the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life. Physical inactivity is alarmingly common among adolescents.”
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One of the key risks in developing diabetes is the rising consumption of sugary drinks in the world. But a sedentary lifestyle rates high in risk factors, as well. According to the report, children today are far less inclined to engage in physical activity than in previous generations.
The report noted that the excessively sedentary lifestyles were more common in high-income countries than low-income countries.
The increase in deaths attributed to the disease can also be linked to the inability of those in developing countries to secure insulin to control the disease, because of cost and availability.
The WHO recommends that adults between 18 to 65 get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week and may include things like walking, jogging, and gardening.
WHO chief Margaret Chan called for a coordinated, holistic response to the global threat.
“Effectively addressing diabetes does not just happen: it is the result of collective consensus and public investment in interventions that are affordable, cost-effective and based on the best available science.”
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