Excessive weight, obesity, aging and population growth drove a nearly four-fold increase in worldwide cases of diabetes over the last quarter-century, affecting 422 million people in 2014, the World Health Organization reported Wednesday.
In a new report on diabetes, the U.N. health agency called for stepped-up measures to reduce risk factors for diabetes and improve treatment and care that has ballooned in recent years alongside an increase in obesity rates. WHO said 8.5 percent of the world population had diabetes two years ago, up from 108 million, or 4.7 percent, in 1980.
On Wednesday, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said:
"We need to rethink our daily lives: to eat healthily, be physically active and avoid excessive weight gain."
The Geneva-based agency blamed growing consumption of food and beverages high in sugar. Diabetes increased around the world but affects lower- and middle-income people more often than wealthier populations. The rates rose most in Africa, the Middle East and Asia - with the "Eastern Mediterranean" region more than doubling its prevalence to 13.7 percent of the population, the only world region with a double-digit percentage.
Diabetes is a chronic condition in which the body either does not make enough insulin to break down the sugar in foods or uses insulin inefficiently. It can cause early death or serious complications like blindness, stroke, kidney disease or heart disease.
In the "Global Report on Diabetes" released Wednesday, WHO says diabetes caused 1.5 million deaths in 2012, and another 2.2 million deaths were caused by higher-than-optimal blood glucose levels, by increasing the risks of cardiovascular and other diseases.
The report does not distinguish between Type 1 diabetes, which involves deficient insulin production in the body and requires daily insulin injections for survival, and Type 2, in which the body uses insulin ineffectively and is more often associated with obesity and relatively sedentary lifestyles.
The increase has coincided with growing rates of obesity: In Western countries like the U.S and Britain, two-thirds of people are now overweight or obese. The WHO report stopped short of any drastic new recommendations, suggesting for example that countries build political support and allocate resources for diabetes prevention, and "prioritize actions to prevent people becoming overweight and obese."
The report said WHO is updating its guidelines on fat and carbohydrate intake, but said adults can reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes through regular, adequate physical activity and "healthy diets that include sufficient consumption of dietary fiber, and replacing saturated fatty acids with polyunsaturated fatty acids."