New diabetes cases have declined in richer countries around the world, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear — but diabetes continues to present a substantial threat to global health and finances, according to a new study published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.
As the study notes, the proportion of people with diabetes is still increasing in most areas of the world, including rich countries in North America, Europe and Asia — reflecting the fact that people are being diagnosed with diabetes at a faster rate than deaths in the diabetes population are occurring. Since both sides of this equation — new cases and deaths — affect the diabetes rate in any population, a rising rate doesn’t necessarily mean a rise in new cases. It could simply mean that people with diabetes are living longer.
So for the new study, researchers aimed to look at only one side of the equation: new diabetes cases around the world. Based on a a combination of data sources including government sources, health insurance records, diabetes registries and a health survey, they found that in 19 high-income countries and two middle-income countries (Russia and Ukraine), 19 out of 23 data sources showed a stable or declining rate of new diabetes cases from 2010 onwards — with new annual cases dropping between 1.1% and 10.8% over time. Out of the four data sources that showed an increase in the rate of new diabetes cases, the increase ranged from 0.9% to 5.6%.
To get cutting-edge diabetes news, strategies for blood glucose management, nutrition tips, healthy recipes, and more delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our free newsletter!
Diabetes rates vary by location
As noted in a MedPage Today article, the areas of the world where new diabetes are increasing, as found in the study, include the U.S. Northwest, Lithuania, Singapore and Israel. In the United States as a whole, based on three data sources, new diabetes cases declined among Medicare beneficiaries and participants in the National Health Interview Survey. But a spike in the Northwest was found based on health insurance data from Kaiser Permanente Northwest.
Areas of the world where new diabetes cases were found to be dropping since 2010 include Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Hong Kong, Italy (Lombardy region), Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Scotland, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan and Ukraine. Most data used in the study was specific to type 2 diabetes, although some data sources also included type 1. In most cases, the latest year for which data was available was 2015 or 2016.
While the researchers noted that their study didn’t examine what might be behind the drop in new diabetes cases, the most likely explanation is increased prevention efforts in many countries. Another factor, though, could be the introduction of A1C (a measure of long-term blood glucose control) as an officially approved way to diagnose diabetes in many countries, including the United States. But two countries that never adopted A1C as a diagnostic test — France and Latvia — also saw a drop in new cases, so this might not be a factor after all.
It’s important to note that the data used in the study reflects only people with access to healthcare, so it may exclude many lower-income people who lack health insurance in certain countries, including the United States. It also doesn’t include poor countries, where increasing rates of diabetes threaten to overwhelm healthcare systems that aren’t equipped, in many cases, to treat diabetes and its complications on a large scale.
Have you recently been diagnosed with diabetes? Read “Welcome to Diabetes” to learn about type 2 and “Living With Type 1 Diabetes: Four Tips to Get You Started” and “The Type 1 Diabetes Diagnosis” (for parents) to learn about type 1.