Healthify Blog

A Growing Problem – The Global Epidemic of Diabetes

In 1916, Elliott Joslin, MD, published the first edition of “The Treatment of Diabetes Mellitus,” and he would become one of the leading voices on the disease and treatment. Now, 100 years later, the disease has reached epidemic status as the global population rapidly approaches 500 million diabetics, a startling increase from 108 million cases in 1980. –

Type 2 diabetes is not only impacting more individuals annually; it is also creating a serious financial burden. In 2012, in the US alone, $176 billion was spent treating diabetes. And it is estimated that in the US, 29 million people are diabetic and 87 million, one out every three adults, is at high-risk of developing the disease. Research has shown that diabetes knows no bounds — poor and affluent countries alike have shown steady increases in the prevalence of diabetes.

The driving factor behind the growth in type 2 diabetes is excessive weight and obesity. When people are overweight, there is added pressure on their body to use insulin to control blood sugar levels, making it more likely to develop the disease.

Vulnerable Populations and Diabetes

While obesity is affecting everyone, it’s hitting vulnerable populations at an even higher rate. It has been well documented that high-quality, healthier foods are more expensive to purchase and more difficult to obtain. For low-income families, access to full-service grocery stores may be limited, making it both logistically challenging and expensive to purchase fresh foods. As a result, their diets may rely more on unhealthy foods — items packed with refined grains, added sugar, and saturated fat. Additionally, low-income families may have fewer opportunities for physical activity with not as many safe recreational areas or affordable organized sports.

With weight being the main driver to diabetes, preventative care must address obesity for these vulnerable populations. Many individuals, especially those with prediabetes, are not taking the preventative steps they need to keep their blood sugar in check, and it’s primarily because they are unaware. Researchers estimate that 9 out of 10 people with prediabetes don’t know they have it. They are unaware they are at risk, and unfamiliar with how to make the necessary lifestyle changes. 

Care Coordination and Prevention

Across the country, health systems, payers, and community groups have collaborated on numerous initiatives to bring the necessary resources and education to combat diabetes.

Many programs are focused on starting prevention early. In New York City, The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, along with the Mosholu Montefiore Community Center, created the Bronx Nutrition and Fitness Initiative for Teens (B’N Fit) Anti-Obesity Program. Through a 12-month program, they aim to provide teens between the ages of 12 and 21 free, comprehensive weight-loss services. The program helps teens with limited resources identify their risk factors and offers weight loss tools in order to avoid negative health consequences later in life.

Other programs are focused on those with prediabetes. The National Diabetes Prevention Program was developed as a partnership between private and public sectors to launch outreach and educational efforts. The affordable program is a lifestyle change program to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. Through in-person and online education, the program teaches healthier eating, how to increase physical activity, and ways improve coping skills. Participating members are required to submit data to determine if the program is having an impact. The goal is to cut individuals type 2 diabetes risk in half.

By connecting individuals most at risk with the education and resources needed to prevent diabetes, we can curb this growing problem, and ultimately improve lives around the globe.

Topics: public health