The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned about the increasing rate of diabetes in adults, saying the number of cases recorded around the world has quadrupled in less than four decades.
A WHO study published on Wednesday in The Lancet journal said the number of adults with the disease had surged to 422 million by 2014, compared to 108 million in 1980.
The study said 131 million people, the highest number of cases, were recorded in the WHO's Western Pacific region, which includes China and Japan, while the Southeast Asia region, which includes heavily populated India and Indonesia, was the next, with 96 million cases. The third and fourth on the list were Europe and the Americas with 64 million and 62 million cases respectively.
The research added that an estimated 8.5 percent of the world's adults now have diabetes, compared to 4.7 percent in 1980. It said most people living with diabetes have type 2, a long-term condition characterized by insulin resistance and associated with obesity and other lifestyle factors that emerge in adults and increasingly among children.
The study blamed worldwide changes “in the way people eat, move and live” for the unprecedented surge, saying huge efforts are needed to change "eating and physical activity habits," especially early in life, when key behavioral patterns are formed.
“There is a critical window for intervention to mitigate the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life,” the report said.
It added that physical inactivity is alarmingly common among adolescents, drawing attention to the excessively sedentary lifestyles in high-income countries.
The WHO said with obesity, the blame should not be put excessively on eating habits and lack of enough exercise but obstacles to eating healthily in some societies, especially in lower-income countries. It said limited availability and high cost of insulin in those poor nations has also complicated the response.
Officials at the WHO said diabetes continues to cause millions of deaths in the world with Etienne Krug, who is heading the WHO's response to the disease, calling diabetes “one of the leading killers in the world today.” The report said diabetes and elevated blood glucose levels linked to the disease caused a total of 3.7 million deaths in 2012 worldwide.
Published ahead of the United Nations World Health Day on April 7, the study estimated that the annual global cost of diabetes, including health care needs, exceeds USD 827 billion (728 billion euros), adding that the global GDP losses linked to diabetes could reach USD 1.7 trillion by 2030.