Diabetes Already Affects 382 Million People–And It’s Getting Worse

It’s not just Americans. Diabetes is big in Taiwan, Mexico, and Spain, too.

Diabetes Already Affects 382 Million People–And It’s Getting Worse
[Top Photo: Sean Gladwell via Shutterstock]

These days, diabetes affects the developing world as much as the developed world. As lifestyles in Asia, Latin America, and Africa have changed, so has the prevalence of the classic “lifestyle disease.” China and India now have as many cases as richer countries, and the numbers get worse all the time. A shocking 382 million people already suffer from diabetes II (the adult-onset type) worldwide, and that’s forecast to grow to 592 million by 2035 as more people move to cities and adopt sedentary habits.


The economic impact of this preventable disease is widespread, according to new research from the University of East Anglia. “Diabetes has become a global disease,” says lead researcher Till Seuring. “It’s now not only affecting high-income countries but many countries in Latin America and Africa.”

via UEA

The study breaks down over 100 previously published papers going back to 2001, piecing together the economic impact of the disease globally, like health costs and loss of employment penalties suffered by patients. “The results show a considerable impact of diabetes in terms of costs to society, health systems, individuals, and employers and in terms of a reduction in the productive workforce and productivity in general,” the paper says.

The U.S. has the highest diabetes-related health costs, with lifetime expenses for sufferers at $283,000. That’s much higher than for other countries, even after normalizing for our higher GDP. “Estimates from USA studies put the costs at over $3,000 higher (on average) than studies from other countries, indicating that costs in the USA may indeed be unusually high,” the paper says.

Taiwan, Mexico, and Spain have the next highest costs, and China and Brazil have higher than world-average costs per person. Generally, low- and middle-income people tend to be more adversely affected, because they have less spare income to cope when they get sick. Men are more affected than women, except in the U.S., where women, on average, are 50% less likely to find work after getting the disease.

Worldwide, 8.3% of people aged 20 to 79 have diabetes II. The U.S. rate is 9.2 %, with many developing countries higher than that: China (10%), Mexico (12.6%), and Egypt (16.8%). Indians are particularly predisposed to diabetes, and tend to have a sweet tooth.

In the past, developing countries have focused on communicable disease. Now they are stretched by a lifestyle phenomenon in addition, and they aren’t always coping well. “Diabetes affects the poor more than the rich,” Seuring says. “Policymakers should start recognizing it as an important disease.”

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.