Diabetes Forecast

Diabetes Rates Rising in China

By Tracey Neithercott ,

More people in China have diabetes than previously thought, says a new study that suggests economic growth and subsequent lifestyle changes play a major role in the nation's health.

According to the study, the prevalence of diabetes among people 20 and over in China was 9.7 percent—twice as high as previous reports and close to the United States' 10.7 percent. Earlier estimates were skewed, the study's authors say, because they didn't follow the World Health Organization's criteria for diagnosing diabetes.

An estimated 92 million Chinese adults ages 20 and older have diabetes, and 60 percent of those cases are still undiagnosed, the researchers found. Plus, over 148 million adults were estimated to have pre-diabetes.

Considering total diabetes population alone, China exceeds all other countries. India, which ranks second, has 50 million people with diabetes, according to the World Diabetes Foundation. The American Diabetes Association says the United States has 23.6 million people with diabetes.

For the study, published in the March 25 edition of The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers tested more than 46,000 adults ages 20 and older for diabetes in 2007 and 2008. They measured blood glucose levels while fasting and two hours after undergoing an oral-glucose tolerance test.

The study found that location matters. Compared with the rural Chinese, those who live in urban areas are more likely to have diabetes, possibly because of lifestyle changes like an unhealthy diet and less exercise. "The aging of the population, urbanization, nutritional changes, and decreasing levels of physical activity, with a consequent epidemic of obesity, have probably contributed to the rapid increase in the diabetes burden in the Chinese population," the study's authors write.

The finding is significant because diabetes is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in China. "These results indicate that diabetes has become a major public health challenge in China and underscore the need for national strategies aimed at the prevention, detection, and treatment of diabetes in the general Chinese population," say the authors.



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