The World Health Organization’s new global report on diabetes warns that the disease has nearly quadrupled from 1980 to 2014—108 million to 422 million.
Diabetes is affiliated with 3.7 million deaths worldwide per year, WHO noted in its 88-page report, released in time for World Health Day on April 7.
The surge includes both Type 1 and 2 diabetes, but Type 2 accounts for more, which is mainly accrued from poor lifestyle choices.
The WHO describes diabetes as:
A serious, chronic disease that occurs either when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin (a hormone that regulates blood sugar, or glucose), or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces.
Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented with current knowledge. However, Type 2 can be combatted with regular exercise, a healthy diet, not smoking, and controlling blood pressure and lipids.
The significant rise in diabetes can be related to worldwide obesity rates, which now sit at 1 in 3 people.
“Diabetes is a silent disease, but it is on an unrelenting march that we need to stop,” Dr Etienne Krug told BBC News. King is currently leading the WHO’s efforts to curb diabetes.
“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,” she said.
The effects of diabetes are devastating—tripling the risk of a heart attack, leaving people 20 times more likely to need amputations, increasing the risk of stroke, blindness, complications in pregnancy, and kidney failure.
Diabetes caused 1.5 million deaths in 2012, and escalated blood sugar levels contributed to an addition 2.2 million deaths—totaling 3.7 million that year—43 percent of them occurring under the age of 70.
In the comprehensive report, WHO details the necessity for, yet complexity of, a strategy to help end the surge of diabetes:
“Achieving the global voluntary target to halt the rising trend of obesity and diabetes will, however, require innovation and the scaling-up in particular of interventions to promote healthy diets and physical activity, as well as innovative ways to measure impact and expand the evidence base for population-wide prevention.
“Interference by food and beverage companies in policy-making and conflicts of interest can lead to the adoption of industry self-regulatory schemes that tend to be less effective than government regulation.
“A whole-of-government approach, and even a whole-of-society approach, is essential to the success of most of these strategies. Without support from the highest level of government, it may be difficult to engage effectively with other key sectors, such as trade, industry, agriculture and education.
“Action is required both to increase physical activity and healthy diet, and to reduce sedentary behaviors and intake of unhealthy foods and beverages. Particular consideration should be given to the impact of these interventions on populations of lower socioeconomic status, who often lack access to healthier foods and opportunities for physical activity.”
“Two things really worry me when I read this report,” said Dr. Krug to BBC. “One is that one-in-11 people today have diabetes. And the other is the lack of fairness. Today in most low income countries, people who have diabetes and need access to medicine and technology to manage it don’t have access to it.”
Children in the U.S. are affected too.
Researchers at Tufts University School of Medicine and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy examined children’s activity patterns at school and out of school, versus the national standard.
According to a newswise report, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that school-age children get at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity every day—30 minutes during the school day, and 30 minutes after.
Researchers, across the entire sample of 453 children, recorded that only 15 percent achieved 60 minutes of daily physical activity—and even fewer, 8 percent, met the recommendation of 30 minutes during school.
The greatest disparity was between boys and girls, the report said, with girls being far less likely than boys to meet both of these guidelines. Only 8 percent and 2 percent meeting the total daily minutes, and in-school minutes respectively. Compared to normal or underweight children, overweight and obese children were also less active overall and achieved fewer minutes during school and out of school.
Health officials warn that these numbers will continue to increase if “drastic action” is not taken.