Diabetes burden to double to 1.3 billion adults by 2050, says study

Numbers will rise across age groups and countries. Obesity and health inequities are to be blamed.
Ameya Paleja
Doctor checking blood glucose of a patient
Doctor checking blood glucose of a patient


The number of diabetic individuals is expected to double from 529 million in 2021 to 1.3 billion by 2050, a study published in the journal Lancet has said.

The condition is rapidly outpacing diseases globally to become a significant threat to people and health systems.

Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death globally as per data from the World Health Organization (WHO) while diabetes is the ninth on the list. However, as the global population swells to nearly 10 billion by 2050, the incidence of diabetes is expected to rise sharply. One in every seven people will be affected by the condition which would put severe strain on healthcare systems.

Type 2 diabetes which accounts for a large majority of diabetic cases is a largely preventable disease and can even be reversed if detected early. However, the current state of our health systems is unlikely to help patients in early detection and treatment and might even make it worse for those in marginalized communities, the report said.

Experiences from the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic led bare the inequities in healthcare systems globally. Healthcare access can be heavily skewed on the basis of where one lives and for people from marginalized communities get worse. Access to essential medicines like insulin can be impaired leading to worse control of blood glucose levels and lowering the quality of life as well as its expectancy.

The pandemic also showed that conditions like diabetes increase risks manifold and could lead to severe complications and even death when compared to those who were healthy.

Diabetes burden to double to 1.3 billion adults by 2050, says study
Access to healthcare can vary depending on where one lives

Even within the global north, residential segregation impacted access to healthy food and healthcare. Experts recommend taking into consideration the impact of social as well as economic factors when devising strategies to curb the rise of diabetes cases.

Who is to blame?

According to numbers by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2022, as many as 37.3 million people in the US have diabetes. That is a little over 11 percent of the population. In 2017, the estimated cost of diagnosed diabetes was $327 billion in the U.S. alone.

Risk factors for diabetes are multiple and complex but age, family history of the patient, and ethnicity also play a role. Obesity or excess weight in individuals is also translating into a higher number of diabetes cases.

In recent years, a sharp increase has been noticed in the incidence of diabetes in adults who are 40 years of age or younger. Additionally, cases have also risen in areas that have higher levels of deprivation, the report added.

Structural conditions of places where people live and work have also been found to have far-reaching effects on diabetes outcomes and have worse outcomes for ethnic groups such as Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous people.

Experts have called the predictions alarming and urged governments to address inequalities in diabetes prevalence as well as conditions responsible for ill health on an urgent basis if the toll from diabetes has to be avoided. If we fail, diabetes will be a major health challenge in every country and age group in the coming decades.

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