The prevalence of diabetes has seen an alarming surge, affecting over 500 million individuals across all age groups worldwide. In a concerning trend, a new study published in The Lancet and The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journals indicates that this number is expected to climb to a staggering 1.3 billion by 2050.

"The rapid rate at which diabetes is growing is not only alarming but also challenging for every health system in the world, especially given how the disease also increases the risk for ischemic heart disease and stroke," said Kanyin Liane Ong, lead researcher of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington School of Medicine, an institute news release.

The escalating scale of the diabetes epidemic has raised significant concerns among health experts and policymakers alike. With half a billion people currently living with the disease, it poses a formidable challenge to public health systems globally. The impact is far-reaching, affecting communities in both developed and developing nations.

"While the general public might believe that type 2 diabetes is simply associated with obesity, lack of exercise, and a poor diet, preventing and controlling diabetes is quite complex due to a number of factors. That includes someone’s genetics, as well as logistical, social, and financial barriers within a country’s structural system, especially in low- and middle-income countries,” Ong said. Type 2 diabetes accounts for a staggering 96% of all diabetes cases globally, highlighting the urgent need for effective prevention and management strategies. 

Of particular concern is the North Africa and Middle East region, where the diabetes rate currently stands at 9%. Disturbingly, projections indicate that this figure is set to increase to 17% by 2050 if appropriate actions are not taken promptly. The region's unique set of challenges, including lifestyle changes, dietary patterns, and genetic factors, contribute to the accelerated rise in diabetes cases.

Similarly, Latin America and the Caribbean face an imminent surge in diabetes cases. The projected increase from the current rate of diabetes, at 6%, is expected to reach 11%, while Central Europe, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia record the lowest rate at 20%, and is particularly pronounced among individuals aged 65 and older, with a prevalence rate exceeding 20% in every country. Notably, the highest rate of 24% was observed among the 75- to 79-year-old age group. 

"Some people might be quick to focus on one or a few risk factors, but that approach doesn’t take into account the conditions in which people are born and live that create disparities worldwide,” said co-author Lauryn Stafford, a post-bachelor fellow at the institute. "Those inequities ultimately impact people’s access to screening and treatment and the availability of health services. That’s precisely why we need a more complete picture of how diabetes has been impacting populations at a granular level.”