The number of people with diabetes has nearly quadrupled since 1980, with an estimated 422 million people living with the condition across the world in 2014, says a WHO report. 

The prevalence of the disease has also doubled, rising from 4.7 to 8.5 percent of the adult population, with the biggest rises taking place in in low to middle-income countries over the past decade.

WHO released its first Global report on diabetes to coincide with World Health Day, which this year focuses on diabetes, and called for action to step up prevention and treatment of the disease, especially in poorer nations.

The report linked diabetes and higher-than-optimal blood glucose to 3.7 million deaths each year, 43 percent of which occurred before the age of 70.

Highlighting that the disease was “no longer a disease of predominantly rich nations”, WHO director-general, Dr Margaret Chan, said: “Unfortunately, in many settings the lack of effective policies to create supportive environments for healthy lifestyles and the lack of access to quality health care means that the prevention and treatment of diabetes, particularly for people of modest means, are not being pursued. When diabetes is uncontrolled, it has dire consequences for health and well-being.”

The report called on “concerted action” from governments, healthcare providers, people with diabetes, civil society, food producers and manufacturers and suppliers of medicines and technology.

“If we are to make any headway in halting the rise in diabetes, we need to rethink our daily lives: to eat healthily, be physically active, and avoid excessive weight gain,” said Dr Chan. “Even in the poorest settings, governments must ensure that people are able to make these healthy choices and that health systems are able to diagnose and treat people with diabetes.”

Key findings from the report included:

  • The epidemic of diabetes has major health and socioeconomic impacts, especially in developing countries
  • In 2014, more than 1 in 3 adults aged over 18 years were overweight and more than one in 10 were obese
  • The complications of diabetes can lead to heart attack, stroke, blindness, kidney failure and lower limb amputation. For example, rates of lower limb amputation are 10 to 20 times higher for people with diabetes
  • Many of the 3.7 million deaths are largely preventable through adoption of policies to create supportive environments for healthy lifestyles and better detection and treatment of the disease
  • Good management includes use of a small set of generic medicines; interventions to promote healthy lifestyles; patient education to facilitate self-care; and regular screening for early detection and treatment of complications.