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Almost four times as many adults live with diabetes when compared to known figures from 1980. A global World Health Organization report noted sharp increases in cases in low- and middle-income countries.
The World Health Organization released its first global report on diabetes on Wednesday, a day before World Health Day. The agency warned that if left unchecked, the disease could soon be one of the top causes of death worldwide.
"Globally, an estimated 422 million adults were living with diabetes in 2014, compared to 108 million in 1980," the UN agency said, warning that the condition had worsened due to worldwide changes "in the way people eat, move and live."
According to WHO, the disease directly caused 1.5 million deaths in 2012 - the latest year available for global figures - but high blood-glucose levels related to diabetes caused an additional 2.2 deaths that year.
The report states that, given the current upward trend, diabetes could become one of the top seven causes of death worldwide by 2030, or even earlier.
Asian regions most affected
The Western Pacific region - which includes China and Japan - was the worst region to be affected with 131 million estimated cases in 2014. The heavily-populated Southeast Asia region - including Indonesia and India - was the second-most affected, with 96 million cases.
Europe and the Americas came in third and fourth on the list, with 64 million and 62 million respective cases.
"Over the past decade, diabetes prevalence has risen faster in low- and middle-income countries than in high-income countries," the report stated. Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General said the data shows diabetes is "no longer a disease of predominantly rich nations."
"If we are to make any headway in halting the rise in diabetes, we need to rethink our daily lives: to eat healthily, be physically active, and avoid excessive weight gain," Chan said in a press release. "Even in the poorest settings, governments must ensure that people are able to make these healthy choices and that health systems are able to diagnose and treat people with diabetes."
The German Diabetes Society (DDG) estimates that 300,000 people in Germany contract the disease each year, but they estimate that up to 2 million people are unaware of their condition.
Rise of obesity
The data also "reflects an increase in associated risk factors such as being overweight or obese," WHO said in its report.
The UN health agency is calling for an emphasis on diabetes prevention and for early detection. Complications from the disease can lead to blindness, stroke, kidney failure, heart attack, as well as lower limb amputation.
The disease splits into two groups: type one, which occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, and type two, which is associated with obesity and lifestyle factors. There is no known way to prevent the first type.
The report was released ahead of April 7th's "World Health Day" - the theme this year is "Beat Diabetes."
rs/msh (AFP, dpa)