The number of individuals with diabetes is projected to increase twofold, rising from 529 million in 2021 to 1.3 billion by 2050, according to a new study published in The Lancet. This indicates that diabetes is surpassing other diseases on a global scale, posing a substantial threat to individuals and healthcare systems, the researchers said.
Diabetes is a chronic condition characterized by elevated blood sugar levels, which can result in harm to the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and nerves. Most of the cases are type 2 diabetes, the form of the disease linked to obesity and that is largely preventable. Both type 1 and type 2 are becoming more common among young people, the study found.
The increasing prevalence of diabetes can be attributed to two main factors: the higher rates of obesity and shifting demographics. The COVID-19 pandemic has also widened diabetes inequality globally, the researchers said. People with diabetes are twice as likely to develop severe infection with COVID-19 and die compared with those without diabetes.
“The rapid rate at which diabetes is growing is not only alarming but also challenging for every health system in the world, especially given how the disease also increases the risk for ischemic heart disease and stroke,” Liane Ong, study lead author and researcher at the Institute for health Metrics and Evaluation, said in a statement.
Diabetes fast expansion
In their study, the researchers looked at the prevalence, morbidity and mortality of diabetes for 204 countries and territories by age and sex between 1990 and 2021, forecasting prevalence by 2050. They also provided estimates of type 1 and type 2 and quantified the proportion of type 2 burden attributable to 16 risk factors.
Cardiovascular diseases are the main cause of death worldwide, surpassing all other causes such as diabetes, which ranks ninth on the list. Nevertheless, as the global population approaches nearly 10 billion by 2050, diabetes is expected to climb further up the list, affecting one in every seven individuals by mid-century.
While every country will be affected, the increase won’t be distributed evenly. By 2050, the prevalence rates in North Africa and the Middle East will reach 16.8%, while in Latin America and the Caribbean, it’s estimated to reach 11.3%. In comparison, the estimated global prevalence for 2050 is 9.8%, with the current prevalence standing at 6.1%.
The study also looked at the influence of racism on diabetes, especially in high-income countries, where rates are 1.5 times higher in minority groups. By 2050, about three-quarters of adults diagnosed with diabetes will be in low and middle-income countries. Diabetes death rates in these countries will also be twice as high as those in high-income countries.
“Racist policies such as residential segregation affect where people live, their access to sufficient and healthy food and health care services,” Leonard Egede, a study co-author, said in a statement.
“This cascade of widening diabetes inequity leads to substantial gaps in care and clinical outcomes for people from historically disenfranchised racial and ethnic groups.”
The study is one component of a comprehensive series on diabetes published in The Lancet. The researchers emphasized the urgent need for more efficient strategies to mitigate the impact of diabetes, highlighting the importance of addressing inequality. They called for a larger awareness of these disparities and to implement measures to improve healthcare.