Diabetes Cases to More Than Double by 2050

More than 1.3 billion people will live with diabetes by 2050, with every country seeing an increase, a new study projects.

Diabetes is one of the leading causes of death and disability worldwide and affects people regardless of country, age group, or sex. In 2021, about 529 million people were living with diabetes.

A new study published in The Lancet estimates that by 2050, the number of people living with diabetes will more than double to 1.3 billion.

"The rapid rate at which diabetes is growing is not only alarming but also challenging for every health system in the world, especially given how the disease also increases the risk for ischemic heart disease and stroke," says Liane Ong, lead author and Lead Research Scientist at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine.

Currently, North Africa and the Middle East have the highest diabetes rate of 9.3%, and the number is projected to rise to 16.8% by 2050.

Diabetes is especially prevalent in people aged 65 and older, affecting more than 20% of this demographic worldwide. Older adults between ages 75 and 79 carry the heaviest burden of diabetes, with one in four (24.4%) being diagnosed with the condition. North Africa and the Middle East have the highest rate at 39.4% in this age group, while Central Europe, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia have the lowest rate at 19.8%.

In 2021, type 2 diabetes (T2D) accounted for 96% of diabetes cases worldwide. The condition occurs when blood glucose, also called blood sugar, levels are too high due to the body’s inability to make enough of a hormone called insulin.

Of 16 risk factors studied, high body mass index (BMI) was found to be the primary risk for developing T2D, accounting for 52.2% of type 2 diabetes disability and mortality. The other risk factors included dietary risks, environmental/occupational risks, tobacco use, low physical activity, and alcohol use.

"While the general public might believe that T2D is simply associated with obesity, lack of exercise, and a poor diet, preventing and controlling diabetes is quite complex due to a number of factors. That includes someone’s genetics, as well as logistical, social, and financial barriers within a country’s structural system, especially in low- and middle-income countries," adds Ong.

According to the study, successful interventions to remediate diabetes involve body weight loss through aggressive control of calorie intake and physical activity or bariatric surgery. However, as both options require close oversight, they are unlikely to be scalable at a population level globally.

Although medicines such as SGLT2 inhibitors and GLP1 agonists have shown promising results in reducing weight and protecting cardiovascular health in people with type 2 diabetes, the authors emphasize that the viability of these interventions at the population level remains unclear.

An estimated 37.3 million Americans have diabetes. Of those, 8.5 million are undiagnosed with the condition. Managing the disease is crucial to prevent complications such as heart disease, vision problems, nerve damage, and amputation.

A recent study found that 20% of US adults deemed medically "healthy" may have a pre-diabetic glucose metabolism pattern. The researchers hope that the newly developed analytic technique used in the study may help to provide an earlier assessment of people's diabetic status.

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