Currently, around 529 million people are estimated to currently living with diabetes globally, and it is one of the leading causes of death and disability. This number is on track to more than double to 1.3 billion by 2050, driven by structural racism and inequality between countries, according to a new study.
The study, led by researchers at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, revealed that all countries would record a rise in the number of patients with chronic disease, according to AFP. For instance, in India, over 101 million people are living with diabetes compared to 70 million people in 2019, according to an ICMR study published on 7 June. The study was published in the Lancet journal.
“The rapid rate at which diabetes is growing is not only alarming but also challenging for every health system in the world,” Liane Ong, lead author of the paper, told Reuters. It is linked to several other heart conditions, such as heart disease and stroke.
Most of the cases (95%) are type 2 diabetes, which is linked to obesity and is largely preventable, the researchers found. Body mass index, an indicator to screen for weight categories that may lead to health problems as defined by the Centre for Diseases Control and Prevention, is also linked to diabetes.
A high BMI is associated with more than half of deaths and disability from diabetes, according to the report. However, last week, American Model Association adopted a new policy which clarifies the role of BMI as a measure in medicine. Through the new policy, AMA recognizes the “historical harm” that BMI has caused and states that the metric has been used “for racist exclusion.” It also stated that relative body shape and composition differences across race or ethnic groups, sexes, genders, and age span is important to consider when using BMI.
Some of the other factors linked to diabetes risk include diet, exercise, smoking and alcohol, according to AFP. Speaking to AFP, Ong highlighted how diets had changed. "Over the course of 30 years, different countries have really migrated from traditional food habits -- maybe eating more fruits and vegetables, eating healthier greens -- to more highly processed foods," she explained.
The research estimates that by 2045, a majority (three-quarters) of adults with diabetes will live in low- and middle-income countries. Commenting on this, study co-author Leonard Egede, of the Medical College of Wisconsin blamed a "cascade of widening diabetes inequity".
"Racist policies such as residential segregation affect where people live, their access to sufficient and healthy food and health care services," he said in a statement, as reported by AFP.
Notably, the researchers state that one type of intervention is not the solution. Instead, the fight against diabetes needs long-term planning, investment and attention globally.