Diabetes Prevalence Around the World (2023)
Time to read 8 min
Time to read 8 min
They say "prevention is better than cure," but with type 2 diabetes, prevention is always better than the cure.
Going into 2023, diabetes prevalence around the world is still skyrocketing, and the lack of awareness is only making things worse.
Being one of the most common chronic diseases in the world, you can never know too much about it.
Here's everything you need to know about diabetes prevalence and the risk factors contributing to it.
Diabetes is a chronic condition characterized by high blood sugar levels, known as hyperglycemia. This usually happens either because your body isn't producing enough insulin to burn the excess sugar or the insulin isn't working properly.
Normally, insulin is responsible for moving blood sugar into body cells to be burned for energy. But sometimes your pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin or the cells stop letting the insulin do its job (known as insulin resistance), which can lead to hyperglycemia.
Prolonged hyperglycemia can eventually turn into diabetes, one of the most prevalent and serious conditions. Depending on the underlying cause, there are several types of diabetes, but the main ones are type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes, also called insulin-dependent diabetes, is the less common of the two.
It's caused by an autoimmune disorder where your body mistakenly attacks the pancreas's insulin-producing cells. This is why people with type 1 diabetes produce little to no insulin and have to take insulin for life, hence the name.
Another synonym for type 1 diabetes is juvenile diabetes because of its prevalence in children, adolescents, and young adults. It's usually discovered and managed at an early age.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes.
With type 2, your body produces insulin, but it's either not enough or ineffective due to insulin resistance.
It's not an autoimmune disease, unlike type 1, but rather a result of your genetics and lifestyle.
Gestational diabetes is a temporary type of diabetes that happens during pregnancy due to hormonal and metabolic changes.
It affects healthy, pregnant mothers who develop a state of transient high blood sugar.
The NHS (National Health Service) urges mothers to watch their blood sugar during pregnancy for the safety of the mothers and their babies.
Prediabetes is an intermediate condition between normal blood sugar and diabetes.
It's when your blood sugar levels are high but not high enough for a diabetes diagnosis.
Millions of undiagnosed adults are pre-diabetic and have no idea they're at risk of developing diabetes.
Diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases in the world. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) national diabetes statistics report, about 90-95% of diabetics are type 2, while only 5-10% have type 1.
Luckily, type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed with healthy lifestyle changes, unlike type 1 diabetes which is unpreventable. Type 2 diabetics can live with oral medication without the need for insulin in most cases.
Despite being so preventable, diabetes prevalence statistics are quite shocking. The WHO (World Health Organization) reports that in 2014, about 422 million people were living with diabetes. Compared to 109 million people in 1980, that's almost a 400% increase over 34 years!
More recent numbers released in the Diabetes Atlas by the IDF (International Diabetes Federation) show the actual numbers closer to 537 million as of 2021.
This means that from 2014 to 2021, the global burden of diabetes jumped 27.2%. In just seven years, we gained 115 million new cases of diagnosed diabetes. Imagine the number of people who might be diabetics and unaware of it.
The Diabetes Atlas further breaks down the global prevalence of diabetes according to regions. Here's the global burden as of 2021:
North America and the Caribbean: 51 million
Europe: 61 million
Middle East and North Africa: 73 million
Africa: 24 million
South and Central America: 32 million
South East Asia: 90 million
Western Pacific: 206 million
It was evident that low and middle-income countries and regions had the highest prevalence of diagnosed diabetes. More specifically, about 3 in 4 adults with diabetes live in low and middle-income countries.
Let's take a closer look at how diabetes affects some countries and regions.
Diabetes prevalence estimates in the United States point to how serious the condition is.
According to the CDC's national diabetes statistics report, about 37.3 million Americans had diabetes in 2019. This is equivalent to 11.3% of the population, which is relatively high compared to other chronic diseases.
Out of the 37.3 million adults with diabetes, only 28.7 million were diagnosed. This means that the other 8.5 million undiagnosed people had absolutely no idea they were diabetic.
That's about 22.7% of the country, or 1 in every 4 Americans, who was diabetic and wasn't watching their blood sugar levels.
They were at a high risk of developing all kinds of complications and health problems like kidney disease, nerve damage, and stroke.
The national diabetes statistics report further broke down the prevalence of diabetes in the US according to age and ethnicity.
The majority of diabetics were adults between 20 and 79 years old. However, a small percentage (about 283,000) were children and adolescents younger than 20.
A minor relief is that 86% of them had type 1 diabetes, which means the diagnosed diabetes had nothing to do with unhealthy lifestyle choices or poor diet. It was pure genetics.
As for ethnic groups, Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans accounted for about 21.3% of diagnosed diabetes cases.
While your ethnic background isn't something you can control, it does give you an indication of how likely you are to develop diabetes. From there, you can keep an eye out for signs and symptoms.
Diabetes is no small matter in Europe, either. According to European Commission reports on diabetes, more than 30 million people in the European Union are already diabetic, with the number rising rapidly.
The UK's National Health Service reported a record high of 2 million people in England with prediabetes in 2020. They were completely healthy, and after a follow-up with their GP, they discovered they had non-diabetic hyperglycemia.
In other words, their elevated blood glucose level could easily become type 2 diabetes if not monitored and controlled. The UK has since implemented diabetes programs for disease control and prevention.
Early diabetes detection can help you avoid the substantial health and financial burdens that come with diabetes care. The high cost of diabetes is one aspect to consider, but more importantly, there are serious complications, the worst of which could be death.
In 2019, the American Diabetes Association ranked diabetes as the seventh major cause of death in the United States. There were a total of 282,801 certificates with diabetes-related deaths.
The WHO estimates that 1.5 million deaths are caused by diabetes every year, and the number keeps rising. 2021, in particular, witnessed an all-time high of 6.7 million deaths due to diabetes. That's equivalent to 1 death every 5 seconds.
Other diabetes complications like vision problems and blindness are just as worrisome. The Diabetes Research Institute reports that 11.8% of diabetics suffer from severe vision difficulty or blindness. In fact, diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness.
Diabetes also causes kidney disease if left untreated. Studies showed that about 39.2% of diabetics during 2017-2020 developed kidney disease as a complication. This is because elevated blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels going to the kidneys.
For about 62,012 people, the complications got much worse, and they developed end-stage kidney disease.
The CDC also warns that diabetics are twice as liable for heart disease and strokes. The longer you have diabetes, especially if uncontrolled, the more likely these complications can happen.
Spreading awareness of the underlying cause and the risk factors for diabetes can lower its prevalence. Some risk factors are uncontrollable, like ethnicity and genetics. Others are completely up to you, such as diet, physical activity, and smoking.
For example, obesity is one of the main risk factors that make diabetes so prevalent.
The ACDC (Australian Centre for Disease Control) found that being obese makes you 10 times more likely to develop diabetes.
Studies by the CDC have shown that losing 5% to 7% of your body weight can help delay or prevent diabetes in pre-diabetics.
That's about 10 to 14 pounds for a 200-pound adult.
The American Heart Association recommends a healthy diet and exercise for 150 minutes per week to help with obesity.
Smoking is another risk factor that makes diabetes spread like wildfire.
Smokers are 30%–40% more likely to become diabetics than non-smokers. It makes it harder to manage your diabetes, and you might have trouble with your insulin dosing.
Global trends point to an alarming increase in diabetes over the next few years.
The American Diabetes Association has noticed a steady rise in the numbers.
According to the most recent ADA reports, about 1.4 million Americans find out they have diabetes every year, and the number is only increasing.
To make matters worse, the CDC warns that more than 96 million Americans are already pre-diabetic, and more than 80% of them don't know it, so they can't prevent it.
On a global scale, 541 million adults have been diagnosed with IGT (impaired glucose tolerance), which means they are very likely to develop diabetes.
This underlines the importance of diabetes prevention, awareness, and disease control. The sooner diabetes is discovered, the better you can control and manage it.
The International Diabetes Federation expects the global prevalence of diabetes to reach 643 million by 2030 and 783 million by 2045.
Unfortunately, we're just a few million adults away from this prediction, with 537 million people already diagnosed in 2021.
Here's the breakdown of 2045 projections according to regions:
North America and the Caribbean: 63 million (24% increase)
Europe: 69 million (13% increase)
Middle East and North Africa: 136 million (87% increase)
Africa: 55 million (134% increase)
South and Central America: 49 million (50% increase)
South East Asia: 152 million (68% increase)
Western Pacific: 260 million (27% increase)
A few healthy modifications can be enough to prevent diabetes onset. The World Health Organization urges people to regularly monitor their blood glucose and check with their doctors to avoid health problems.
The rising prevalence of diabetes worldwide is a bitter pill to swallow, but knowledge is power.
Now that you know how prevalent it is and what risk factors to look out for, your chances of avoiding or managing diabetes are much higher.
Make the right lifestyle choices, stay on top of your blood sugar levels, and hopefully, next year's diabetes reports will be much more promising.