You may be shocked to learn that for every three diabetes sufferers in the world, one of them is Chinese. World development experts are saying that China now outranks the US in the percentage of adults with Type II diabetes, with a staggering 11.6% of adults living with the disease. Just between 2007 and 2010, the number of diabetics in China shot up by 22 million, the equivalent of Australia’s population.
Guang Ning from the Chinese Ministry of Health says that with this increase comes risk for a “major epidemic of diabetes-related complications, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, and chronic kidney disease.” Interestingly enough, many Chinese diabetics, unlike their Western counterparts, are not necessarily overweight, causing many to wonder why this is happening. The causes are a confluence of several factors.
“Poor nutrition in utero and in early life combined with over-nutrition in later life,” says Ning, “may contribute to the accelerated epidemic of diabetes in China.”
Not surprisingly, when a poor society suddenly becomes richer, rapid changes in diet and lifestyle can cause a sudden spike in diabetes. According to Dr. Chan Wing-bun of the Hong Kong Diabetes and Endocrine Center, after a while, people will become more health conscious and the rates will likely drop. He uses Hong Kong in the 1980s and 90s as an example — the number of diabetics climbed to 10% at this time but dropped to 7% by 2004.
But beyond the obvious health concerns, many still fear the illness could have serious economic implications for China and even bankrupt the healthcare system. Paul Zimmet of the Diabetes Federation worries about “the capacity in China to deal with a problem of such magnitude.” His concerns are valid — in 2010 the diabetes related costs in China were 173.4 billion yuan (HK$214 billion). Scarier yet, costs are expected to skyrocket in the next 10 to 20 years as millions more seek treatment.
What do you think the correlation is between culture, economics and diabetes in China? Will it get worse before it gets better?
Photo credit: NBCNews.