Diabetes is on the rise in all regions, with younger and poorer people suffering in increasing numbers. Approximately 350 million people worldwide live with diabetes. This is a serious problem – but individually and collectively we can take actions to prevent and control diabetes.
Earlier this year, countries meeting at the World Health Assembly adopted a Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases calling on countries to stop the rise in obesity and the associated rise in diabetes.
While many people are genetically at greater risk of diabetes, the condition is largely driven by unhealthy lifestyles which are due to the globalization of marketing and trade of unhealthy food, rapid urbanization with reduced opportunity to be physically active, and population ageing. The resulting obesity, poor diet and lack of exercise are major contributors to the rising diabetes burden.
Reducing the number of overweight infants and children is critical. In today’s world of plenty, it is shameful that so many people lack access to healthy foods. Rather than relying on fast foods and quick solutions, countries and communities should support smallholder and family farmers, foster sustainable agriculture and encourage people to eat healthful produce and support physical activity.
As we work for prevention, we must also provide treatment to all those who need it. Nearly one hundred years after insulin was first used to save the life of a diabetic patient, people around the world still die because they cannot access this hormone.
Many people do not even know they have diabetes. Late diagnosis results in serious complications. Without treatment, people with diabetes often die prematurely of heart attack, stroke or kidney failure. Many others are disabled by blindness or limb amputation. Improving access to essential medication for people with diabetes is another target that countries have committed to achieve in the next decade.
On World Diabetes Day, I call on governments to make good on their commitments to address non-communicable diseases, including by fostering sustainable food production and consumption, and I encourage all people to minimize their personal risk. This can contribute to better living for individuals and a more sustainable future for our planet.