A major international study has been published in The Lancet which reveals the scale of global diabetes epidemic, with the disease becoming more common almost everywhere in the world.

The study, which was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the World Health Organisation, took worldwide data on diabetes since 1980 and found that the number of adults with the disease reached 347 million in 2008. This is more than double the number in 1980 and way up on a previous study in 2009 which put the number worldwide at 285 million.

The results, which revealed that high blood glucose and diabetes are responsible for over three million deaths worldwide each year, show that 70% of the rise was due to population growth and ageing, with the other 30% due to higher prevalence. The proportion of adults with diabetes rose to 9.8% of men and 9.2% of women in 2008, compared with 8.3% and 7.5% in 1980.

The study was co-led by Majid Ezzati from Imperial College London and Goodarz Danaei from the Harvard School of Public Health. Prof Ezzati noted that diabetes "is becoming more common almost everywhere in the world", which is in contrast to blood pressure and cholesterol, which have both fallen in many regions. Dr Danaei added that "unless we develop better programmes for detecting people with elevated blood sugar and helping them to improve their diet and physical activity and control their weight, diabetes will inevitably continue to impose a major burden on health systems around the world."

 2.7 million study participants

The study included blood sugar measurements from 2.7 million participants aged 25 or more across the world. It found that diabetes has taken off most dramatically in Pacific Island nations, which now have the highest diabetes levels in the world.

In the Marshall Islands, for example, a staggering one in three women and one in four men have diabetes. Glucose and diabetes were also particularly high in south Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, Central Asia, North Africa and the Middle East.

However, the rise in diabetes was relatively small in western Europe and highest in North America. Off the richer nations, diabetes and glucose levels were highest in the USA, Greenland, Malta, New Zealand and Spain, and lowest in the Netherlands, Austria and France.

Of the aforementioned 347 million people with diabetes, 138 million live in China and India and another 36 million in the USA and Russia. The region with the lowest glucose levels was sub-Saharan Africa, followed by east and southeast Asia.