The more common type of diabetes, type 2 diabetes, is rising sharply in China, growing by 30 percent in just seven years, according to a survey of thousands of Shanghai residents.
The study, published in the journal Diabetes Care, shows that the curse of affluence appears to be affecting China as it has many other developing countries – and it has come on quite rapidly, researchers said.
“Unlike the gradual transition in most Western countries, these changes in China have occurred over a very short time,” wrote lead researcher Rui Li, at the Shanghai Municipal centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
People with type 2 diabetes have trouble processing sugar in their blood, but do not generally require insulin to manage the condition. As countries become more wealthy, lifestyle factors associated with type 2 diabetes – such as weight gain, less healthy diets and less physical activity – tend to become more common.
The research team interviewed more than 12,000 people in 2002 and 2003, asking whether they’d been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. They also screened people for diabetes who had not been diagnosed before.
At that time, they found that 9.7 percent of people had diabetes.
In 2009, they surveyed about 7,400 people again and found that 12.6 percent had the disease. The spike was even more dramatic among the rural residents in the study, going from 6.1 percent to 9.8 percent, a 60 percent increase.
“That’s a remarkable increase in seven years,” said Jeffrey Koplan, the vice president for global health at Emory University, who did not take part in the study.
The overall prevalence of diabetes was higher among men and in urban residents in both surveys, but the increase was more noted among rural residents and appeared more rapid in “younger birth cohorts,” the authors wrote.
The study did not pinpoint the causes of the rise in diabetes, and Koplan said he could only speculate on what’s to blame, though it has been well documented that people are getting wealthier and heavier in China. In addition, diets are including more unsaturated fat.
He added that people are also becoming more dependent on cars and less inclined to walk or ride a bike.
“All these factors would help contributed to having an increased prevalence in type 2 diabetes,” Koplan said.
The authors wrote in their study that an aging population in China likely explains some of their findings. Older people are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, and the researchers noted that 20 percent of Shanghai residents are over 60, with that proportion increasing.
Koplan said that many countries have programmes to promote healthy lifestyles and prevent type 2 diabetes, but as of yet there’s “not a proven, documented intervention that can reverse this epidemic of obesity and epidemic of type 2 diabetes.”