Published: 21-04-2016 18:34 | Updated: 25-04-2016 16:05

Global study on diabetes sheds light on increasing epidemic

Diabetes prevalence has nearly quadrupled since 1980 with the global cost of the disease now being 825 billion international dollars per year, according to the largest ever study of diabetes levels across the world, published in The Lancet in April. Included research from Karolinska Institutet may offer an explanation to the increase, using Sweden as a model for the diabetes epidemic worldwide.

See further information on the Lancet study here: Worldwide trends in diabetes since 1980: a pooled analysis of 751 population-based studies with 4·4 million participants.

The research, which was led by scientists from Imperial College London, and involved Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the World Health Organization and nearly 500 researchers across the globe, incorporated data from 4.4 million adults in most of the world’s countries. The research team has also created interactive maps and other visuals showing the data for each country, and how they compare to each other.

Diabetes results in a person being unable to regulate levels of sugar in their blood, and increases the risk of heart and kidney disease, vision loss, and amputations.

The study compared diabetes levels among adult men and women from 1980 to 2014. The study did not differentiate between type one and type two diabetes, as this wasn’t included in most of the raw data. At least 85-90 percent of diabetes cases are type two (life-style related).

Age adjusted results

The results have been adjusted to account for diabetes becoming more common as a person ages and that some countries have an older population. Using age-adjusted figures, they found that in the last 35 years, global diabetes among men has more than doubled – from 4.3 percent in 1980 to 9 percent in 2014. Meanwhile diabetes among women has risen from 5 per cent in 1980 to 7.9 per cent in 2014. This rise translates as 422 million adults in the world with diabetes in 2014 – which has nearly quadrupled since 1980 (108 million).

Researchers at NVS contributes with Swedish data

Docent Axel C. Carlsson.Axel C. Carlsson and Holger Theobald – researches at the Division of Family Medicine, Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society (NVS), Karolinska Institutet – contributed to the study with data on diabetes in Sweden.

”The global results on diabetes prevalence increasing reflects findings from our previous Swedish research, but there are differences in the time period. In Sweden, the increased prevalence have been ongoing for over 60 years due to urbanisation, higher calorie intake, technical advances and its connection to less physical activity in everyday life, e.g. taking the car instead of walking or bicycling. Globally, the diabetes prevalence have increased much more rapidly, and the main authors of the Lancet study mostly emphasise the link between diabests and obesity as a explanation to the results”, says Axel C. Carlsson.

Swedens development – possible model for global trends?

In an article published 2014 in Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, Axel C. Carlsson and Professor Per Wändell present national data on incidence and prevalence of type 2 diabetes, presenting Swedens development – from one of the poorest countries in Europe at the beginning of the 1900s to one of the most developed western countries at modern time – as a possible model to understand the global trends for diabetes development, which parallel urbanisation.

See further information on the study "Gender differences and time trends in incidence and prevalence of type 2 diabetes in Sweden – A model explaining the diabetes epidemic worldwide today?" on the journals web site.

The Lancet study also found that:

The age-adjusted levels of diabetes in 2014 were lowest in some countries in northwestern Europe, where around 4 percent of women and 6 percent of men have diabetes.
The prevalence of diabetes was highest in Polynesia and Micronesia, where more than one in five adults has the condition.
Overall, low- and middle-income countries had the largest rise in diabetes levels over the 34-year period.