As stunning as it sounds, the number of adults estimated to be living with diabetes has nearly quadrupled in the pas 35 years according to a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO)

That’s an estimated 8.5 percent of the world’s adult population.

Urging drastic measure to get people to change eating habits and exercise more, the UN’s health agency said the number of adults with the disease had skyrocketed to 422 million by 2014 –that compares to 108 million in 1980.


WHO, in its first-ever global report on the disease, attributes the rise “in the way people eat, move and live,”

The study found that diabetes directly caused 1.5 million deaths in 2012 — the latest available global figures — but elevated blood glucose levels linked to diabetes were responsible for an additional 2.2 million deaths that year –making diabetes “one of the leading killers in the world today,” said Etienne Krug, who is leads WHO’s response to the disease.

The region worst affected, with 131 million estimated cases in 2014, is the Western Pacific region, which includes China and Japan.

“Effectively addressing diabetes does not just happen: it is the result of collective consensus and public investment in interventions that are affordable, cost-effective and based on the best available science.”

The Southeast Asia region India and Indonesia was the second most affected at 96 million cases.

According to an extensive report by AFP, lifestyle factors are the biggest cause.

To curb the intensifying burden of the disease, huge efforts are needed to change “eating and physical activity habits,” especially early in life, when key behavioral patterns are formed, WHO said.

“There is a critical window for intervention to mitigate the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life,” the report said.

It noted that rising consumption of sugary drinks and other fattening foods was a key factor, but drew particular attention to high rates of physical inactivity.

According to worldwide 2010 figures, nearly a quarter of people over 18 did not do the minimum recommended amount of physical activity per week, with women recorded as less active than men.

The WHO recommends that adults between 18 to 65 get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity — including things like walking, jogging and gardening — per week.

“Physical inactivity is alarmingly common among adolescents,” the report added, noting that the excessively sedentary lifestyles were more acute in high-income countries than low-income countries.

AFP also wrote of the huge economic toll

In 2014, one in four adults were overweight, while one in 10 were defined as obese, according to WHO figures.

The WHO estimated that the annual global cost of diabetes, including health care needs, exceeds $827 billion (728 billion euros).

Citing a separate study, the agency said the global GDP losses linked to diabetes could reach $1.7 trillion by 2030, with the damage split roughly evenly between developed and developing nations.

Noting both the health and macroeconomic damage caused by the growing diabetes epidemic, WHO chief Margaret Chan called for a coordinated, holistic response.

This should include greater efforts to curb smoking, a push to entrench physical activity in education systems and working with food companies to promote availability of healthier products, the organization said.

As with obesity, WHO has stressed that putting excessive blame on individuals for eating too much or not exercising enough ignores several key factors, including the obstacles to eating healthily in some societies.

Complicating the response in lower-income countries is the limited availability and high cost of insulin in many areas, WHO said.

“Effectively addressing diabetes does not just happen: it is the result of collective consensus and public investment in interventions that are affordable, cost-effective and based on the best available science,” Chan said in a statement.