Obesity, a key driver of diabetes

PRESS RELEASE: In the Region of the Americas, the rate of adult obesity is more than double the world average, with women more affected than men. Halting the advance of this condition through policies and healthy lifestyles can prevent future cases of diabetes.

Washington, D.C., 13 November 2017 (PAHO/WHO) – Obesity is one of the main risk factors for diabetes. In the Americas, the percentage of adults who are obese is more than twice the world average, with more women affected than men. Healthy eating and an active lifestyle can help prevent or even reverse obesity, in turn preventing the onset of diabetes or helping to control it.

Diabetes is a progressive chronic disease characterized by high blood glucose levels. Type 2 diabetes—responsible for the majority of cases worldwide, and largely attributable to excessive bodyweight and physical inactivity—is increasing rapidly throughout the world. The number of people in the Americas with this disease has tripled since 1980.  Some 62 million adults in the Americas were living with type 2 diabetes and approximately 305,000 died from the disease in 2014, the latest year for which figures are available. Unless measures are taken to address the problem, it is estimated that by 2040 there will be over 100 million adults with diabetes, with adverse effects on quality of life that include heart attack, stroke, blindness, renal failure, and amputation of lower limbs.

Women, obesity, and diabetes

In many countries, women are disproportionately affected by obesity. Accordingly, “Women and Diabetes—Our Right to a Healthy Future” is the theme of World Diabetes Day 2017, to be held on 14 November, promoted by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF).

Diabetes affects both women and men in the Americas (8.4% of women and 8.6% of men). However, women have higher rates of obesity than men (29.6% versus 24%).

Some studies have shown an association between higher body mass index and greater risk of diabetes, and abdominal obesity has also become a reliable predictive factor for the disease.

During pregnancy, women can develop gestational diabetes, which increases the risk of complications. Obesity and diabetes in mothers have also been linked with a greater likelihood of their children contracting diabetes in youth.

“The Region of the Americas has the highest levels of childhood obesity in the world, which means that in the future we will have more people with chronic diseases such as diabetes,”said PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne. However, these diseases “are highly preventable,” she observed, urging “commitment by all to ensure that children are breastfed, avoid foods high in fats, sugar, and salt, and engage in physical activity as a part of their daily routine.”

In the Americas, noncommunicable diseases—principally cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases—are responsible for approximately 80% of all deaths, 35% of which are premature deaths in people between the ages of 30 and 70. Given the magnitude of the problem, the world’s countries made a commitment to a one-third reduction in their premature mortality rates by 2030, and to working to combat the principal risk factors: tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol use.

Stopping the advance of diabetes

The advance of diabetes can be halted by a combination of fiscal policies, legislation, environmental changes, and increased awareness among the population, all of which can reduce the disease’s risk factors, which include obesity and a sedentary lifestyle.

Examples of these interventions include taxes on sugary beverages, prohibitions on the advertising of highly processed foods to children, front-of-package food labeling, and the promotion of safe and accessible recreational spaces to encourage active living. Healthy eating and 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on a nearly daily basis can dramatically reduce the risk of developing diabetes.

PAHO supports the countries of the Region in their efforts to minimize the impact of diabetes and reduce premature mortality from the disease, as part of the Global Plan of Action for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases 2013-2020. Accordingly, it helps the countries acquire affordable drugs to treat diabetes, thus reducing the costs associated with treating this chronic disease.

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