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Half a billion people now have diabetes globally, highest diabetes prevalence is in poorer nations

A new study out of the University of Michigan shows almost half a billion people globally have diabetes, although many don’t know they have it. The study found that the number of cases of diabetes have more than quadrupled since 1980, when there were 108 million, and found that diabetes is more likely to affect impoverished nations in Africa, the Americas, and South East Asia. The study shows that only one in 10 diabetics are getting the care they need to make their lives healthier, longer, and more productive. 

Failure to control blood sugar levels can result in devastating consequences. Diabetes can triple the risk of a heart attack and leaves people 20 times more at risk of leg amputation.

Diabetes cost Canada $2.18 billion (US$ 1.8 billion) in 2008 in hospital admissions, physician care, and medication, with an additional cost from new cases estimated at $15.36 billion in 2022. One-fourth of all US health care expenditures in 2017 were incurred by those with diabetes.


“Diabetes continues to explode everywhere, in every country, and 80 percent of people with it live in these low and middle income countries,” says lead author Dr. David Flood from the University of Michigan in a release.

The CDC estimates that over 34 million Americans are currently living with diabetes and 90 percent have type 2 diabetes. The study’s authors suggest that cheaper medications to reduce glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol could combat the growing crisis. 

“Fewer than one in ten people with diabetes in LMICs receive coverage of guideline-based comprehensive diabetes treatment,” the study stated. “Scaling up the capacity of health systems to deliver treatment not only to lower glucose but also to address cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as hypertension and high cholesterol, are urgent global diabetes priorities.”

The findings of the study have been provided to the World Health Organization, “which is developing efforts to scale up delivery of evidence-based diabetes care globally as part of an initiative known as the Global Diabetes Compact”.


Patients in poorer nations face many barriers to care. Blood samples revealed a key biomarker of elevated sugar in these high-risk patients. Patients need access to a healthy diet and exercise, which can encourage healthy habits, authors say. The research team added that less than a third have access to advice on diet and fitness.

Nations in the Oceania region of the Pacific had the highest prevalence of diabetes, but the lowest rates of diabetes-related care. Latin American and Caribbean regions had higher levels of care available. Women, wealthier individuals, older people, and the obese are more likely to get good quality treatment. 

Fewer than half of the patients they surveyed with the condition are taking blood-sugar or blood pressure-lowering medication, and only 9 percent were taking something for their cholesterol.


“The fact diabetes-related medications are available at very low cost, and individuals can reduce their risk through lifestyle changes, mean cost should not be a major barrier,” Flood concludes. “In fact, studies have shown the medications to be cost-effective, meaning the cost of their early and consistent use is outweighed by the savings on other types of care later.”

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