10 facts on diabetes

The number of people with diabetes has nearly quadrupled since 1980. Prevalence is increasing worldwide, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. The causes are complex, but the rise is due in part to increases in the number of people who are overweight, including an increase in obesity, and in a widespread lack of physical activity.

Diabetes of all types can lead to complications in many parts of the body and increase the risk of dying prematurely. In 2012 diabetes was the direct cause of 1.5 million deaths globally. A large proportion of diabetes and its complications can be prevented by a healthy diet, regular physical activity, maintaining a normal body weight and avoiding tobacco use.

In April 2016, WHO published the Global report on diabetes, which calls for action to reduce exposure to the known risk factors for type 2 diabetes and to improve access to and quality of care for people with all forms of diabetes.


Fact 1: About 422 million people worldwide have diabetes.

The prevalence of diabetes has been steadily increasing for the past 3 decades, mirroring an increase in the prevalence of obesity and overweight people. In particular, the prevalence of diabetes is growing most rapidly in low- and middle-income countries.

Fact 2: Diabetes is 1 of the leading causes of death in the world

In 2012 diabetes was the direct cause of 1.5 million deaths.

An additional 2.2 million deaths were caused in the same year by higher-than-optimal levels of blood glucose, through an increased risk of cardiovascular and other diseases. Even when blood glucose levels are not high enough to warrant a diagnosis of diabetes damage can occur to the body. The risk of cardiovascular disease rises as blood glucose levels rise.

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Fact 3: There are 2 major forms of diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is characterized by a lack of insulin production and type 2 diabetes results from the body’s ineffective use of insulin. While type 2 diabetes is potentially preventable, the causes and risk factors for type 1 diabetes remain unknown, and prevention strategies have not yet been successful.

Fact 4: A third type of diabetes is gestational diabetes.

Gestational diabetes is characterized by hyperglycaemia, or raised blood sugar, with values above normal but below those diagnostic of diabetes, during pregnancy. Women with gestational diabetes are at an increased risk of complications during pregnancy and delivery. They and their children are also at increased risk of type 2 diabetes in the future.

Fact 5: Type 2 diabetes is much more common than type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 accounts for the majority of cases of diabetes worldwide. Higher waist circumference and higher body mass index (BMI) are associated with increased risk of type 2 diabetes, though the relationship may vary in different populations. Reports of type 2 diabetes in children – previously rare – have increased worldwide.

Fact 6: People with diabetes can live long and healthy lives when their diabetes is detected and well-managed.

A series of cost-effective interventions can help people diagnosed with diabetes manage their condition. These interventions include: blood glucose control through a combination of diet, physical activity and, if necessary, medication; control of blood pressure and lipids to reduce cardiovascular risk and other complications; and regular screening for damage to the eyes, kidneys and feet, to facilitate early treatment.

Fact 7: Early diagnosis and intervention is the starting point for living well with diabetes.

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The longer a person lives with undiagnosed and untreated diabetes, the worse their health outcomes are likely to be. Basic technologies such as blood glucose measurement should be readily available in primary health-care settings.

Fact 8: The majority of diabetes deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries

In general, primary health-care practitioners in low-income countries do not have access to the basic technologies needed to help people with diabetes properly manage their disease. Access to essential medicines (including life-saving insulin) and technologies is limited in low- and middle-income countries.

Fact 9: Diabetes is an important cause of blindness, amputation and kidney failure

Diabetes of all types can lead to complications in many parts of the body and increase the overall risk of dying prematurely. Possible complications include heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, leg amputation (because of infected, non-healing foot ulcers), vision loss and nerve damage.

Fact 10: Type 2 diabetes can be prevented

Thirty minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days and a healthy diet can drastically reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

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