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Diabetes: A Growing Problem in China

Update Date: Sep 04, 2013 11:42 AM EDT

Type 2 diabetes, dubbed adult diabetes, is a chronic illness that people develop after their bodies fail to either respond to insulin, which is a hormone that regulates sugar in cells or fail to produce enough insulin to help control the blood sugar levels. When type 2 diabetes is left untreated, it could lead to life-threatening situations. Not only can type 2 diabetes directly affect the body, it also contributes to several health conditions, which is why prevention and better treatment options are important. Despite knowing several prevention techniques that can reduce one's risk of type 2 diabetes, this condition continues to rise in China. Now, according to a new report the diabetes epidemic in China is worse than previously thought.

In one of the most comprehensive studies done on the incidence of diabetes in China, researchers found that 11.6 percent of adults, which is equivalent to 114 million people, have diabetes. This new rate adds an extra 22 million diabetic adults to the statistic previously estimated in 2007. This new number also indicates that nearly one in every three diabetics in the global community reside in China. More than one in every nine Chinese adult has diabetes in the country. This new report suggests that the nation needs to do more to handle this growing health condition before matters get worse and medical costs start to soar.

"Diabetes in China has become a catastrophe," commented Paul Zimmet according to Bloomberg. Zimmet is the honorary president of the International Diabetes Federation and the director emeritus of the BakerIDI Heart and Diabetes Institute located in Melbourne, Australia. "The booming economy in China has brought with it a medical problem which could bankrupt the health system. The big question is the capacity in China to deal with a health problem of such magnitude."

In this study, the researchers had used data collected from a survey that questioned a nationally representative group of 98,658 Chinese adults back in 2010. The survey data also revealed that the diabetics in China are getting the disease at a much lower body mass index (BMI) when compared to the diabetics in America. The researchers found that the participants had an average BMI of 23.7, which is just below the range of being considered overweight. However, even though diabetes is often associated with obesity, it appears that this is not the case in China. Since the Chinese population is being diagnosed at a lower body weight, this indicates that the disease is greatly affected by changes in diet and physical activity within this nation.

"Rapid lifestyle changes in China have caused rising trends in obesity, and that is now bringing out the abnormality of a people biologically more vulnerable to diabetes," said Juliana Chan, professor of medicine and therapeutics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

On top of that, the researchers noted that diabetes is occurring at a much earlier age in China. Furthermore, the researchers estimated that a little under half of the adults in China might have prediabetes, which is a state in which blood sugar levels are above normal but still below the diabetic range.

"China is now among the countries with the highest diabetes prevalence in Asia and has the largest absolute disease burden of diabetes in the world," the researchers wrote. "Poor nutrition in utero and early life combined with over-nutrition in later life may contribute to the accelerated epidemic of diabetics in China."

The researchers were from the National Health and Family Planning Commission, Beijing's Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and America's Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)

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