SATURDAY, June 25, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- The last quarter century has seen a such an explosion in the incidence of diabetes that nearly 350 million people worldwide now struggle with the disease, a new British-American study reveals.
Over the past three decades the number of adults with diabetes has more than doubled, jumping from 153 million in 1980 to 347 million in 2008.
What's more, the incidence of diabetes in the United States is rising twice as fast as that of Western Europe, the investigation revealed.
The finding stems from an analysis of blood samples taken from 2.7 million people aged 25 and up living in a wide range of countries.
Professor Majid Ezzati of Imperial College London teamed up with Dr. Goodarz Danaei of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston and their colleagues to present their observations June 25 in The Lancet.
"Diabetes is one of the biggest causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide," Ezzati said in a news release from The Lancet. "Our study has shown that diabetes is becoming more common almost everywhere in the world."
"This is in contrast to blood pressure and cholesterol, which have both fallen in many regions," Ezzati added."(And) diabetes is much harder to prevent and treat than these other conditions."
The authors warned that diabetes can trigger the onset of heart disease and stroke, while damaging the kidney, nerves and eyes. Complications are predicted to rise with the growing incidence of the disease.
To get a sense of where diabetes is heading, the team reviewed measurements of fasting blood glucose (sugar) levels, based on blood samples taken after an individual hadn't eaten for 12 to 14 hours.
The highest incidence of diabetes and fasting plasma glucose (FPG) levels were found in the United States, Greenland, Malta, New Zealand and Spain. The countries with the lowest levels were Netherlands, Austria and France.
Diabetes prevalence was markedly lower in the United Kingdom than in the majority of other wealthy countries, even though the U.K. is experiencing an obesity epidemic, the researchers found. British men had the 5th lowest rate of diabetes, while British women ranked 8th lowest.
Globally, however, the authors found that the percentage of men who now have diabetes has risen by 18 percent over the past 30 years, climbing from just over 8 percent to nearly 10 percent in that time.
Among women, the rise was even steeper, amounting to a 23 percent spike in the same period, as the incidence crept up from 7.5 percent to slightly more than 9 percent.
Other nations where diabetes has exploded in recent years include Pacific Island countries, such as the Marshall Islands (where one-third of the women and one-quarter of the men have diabetes) and Saudi Arabia. Diabetes and glucose levels in South and Central Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, North Africa and the Middle East were also especially high.
In contrast, the occurrence of diabetes in Eastern Europe appears to have remained stable over the last 30 years, while blood sugar levels appear to be lowest in sub-Saharan Africa and east and southeast Asia.
Ezzati and Danaei suggest that more than two-thirds of this rise (70 percent) can be attributed to a world in which aging people are living longer, as diabetes risk goes up with age. An increase in the obesity rate, higher body mass indexes (BMI) and other critical risk factors unrelated to age accounts for the remaining 30 percent, they said.
Genetic factors associated with ethnic origin, nutrition in the womb and early life, diet quality, and physical activity might also affect these trends, the authors reported in the news release.
Without better programs for detecting people with elevated blood sugar and helping them to improve their diet, get more exercise and control their weight, "diabetes will inevitably continue to impose a major burden on health systems around the world," said Danaei.
On a brighter note, a separate study out of the United Kingdom revealed that those recently diagnosed with diabetes can achieve improved control of their blood glucose levels when given just 6.5 hours of targeted nutritional guidance and support every year.
For more on diabetes rates, visit the U.S. National Institutes of Health.