Diabetes is a chronic disease in which a person's body is unable to either produce or utilize adequate insulin, the hormone that enables the cells of the body to absorb glucose, or sugar, from the bloodstream. This lack of insulin results in starving cells and an elevated level of sugar in the blood, a condition known as Hyperglycaemia, which can damage bodily systems if left untreated. Fortunately, proper management of diabetes and regular check-ups can prevent many of these complications.
If not properly treated, however, diabetes can be a serious, even life-threatening condition. Health complications caused by diabetes include glaucoma and cataracts, kidney disease, high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), skin complications, damage to nerves and blood vessels, and foot complications. Extreme diabetes can lead to a heart attack, stroke, or the need to amputate a limb. According to the World Health Organization, diabetes was the direct cause of 1.5 million deaths in 2019, 48% of which occurred in patients younger than 70 years of age. The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) offers an even more sobering statistic, citing diabetes as the cause of 6.7 million deaths in 2021.
Diabetes is also remarkably prevalent. According to the most recent IDF data, 537 million people—approximately 10% of all people aged 20-79 in the world—were living with diabetes as of 2021. This is expected to increase to 643 million by 2030 and to 783 million by 2045. What's more, an estimated 240 million of those who have diabetes are currently undiagnosed. Diabetes is a particular concern in Pacific Island nations, where fruits and vegetables can be expensive, fast food is common, and genetic factors may increase diabetes risk. The top 10 countries (and 5 territories) in which diabetes is the most prevalent are listed below, and a full list of the world's countries, their diabetes rates, and the percentage of those with diabetes who are estimated to be undiagnosed and unaware can be found further down.
Top 15 Countries with the Highest Rate of Diabetes (IDF 2021)
- Pakistan — 30.8%
- French Polynesia (France territory) — 25.2%
- Kuwait — 24.9%
- Nauru — 23.4%
- New Caledonia (France territory) — 23.4%
- Northern Mariana Islands (U.S. territory) — 23.4%
- Marshall Islands — 23.0%
- Mauritius — 22.6%
- Kiribati — 22.1%
- Egypt — 20.9%
- American Samoa (U.S. territory) — 20.3%
- Tuvalu — 20.3%
- Solomon Islands — 19.8%
- Qatar — 19.5%
- Guam (U.S. territory) — 19.1%
Types of diabetes
Two main forms of diabetes exist, known as type 1 and type 2. Both are chronic conditions, but the dysfunction varies slightly depending upon the type. Type 1 diabetes is a condition in which the body processes insulin as it should, but the pancreas fails to produce enough of it. By comparison, type 2 diabetes is a condition in which the pancreas produces adequate insulin, but the body lacks the ability to processes it properly. In both types, the end result is that insulin's role in managing glucose levels in the blood is compromised. Type 1 diabetes is typically found in children and makes up roughly 5% of all diabetes cases. Its cause is unknown. Type 2 diabetes makes up approximately 95% of diabetes cases and is more common in adults. Overweight individuals are particularly at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
A third form of diabetes, known as gestational diabetes, can occur temporarily in expectant mothers. While its symptoms are often mild and tend to disappear once the baby is born, both the child and mother are left more susceptible to type 2 diabetes later in life. Also extremely common is prediabetes, a condition in which blood glucose levels are slightly elevated and which often progresses to full type 2 diabetes if not treated. According to the Center for Disease Control, prediabetes afflicts more than 30% of adults in the United States. It is reversible and can be prevented from progressing to full diabetes by following a diet and exercise routine, but it goes undiagnosed in more than 80% of cases.