Diabetes Rates Set to Double by 2030

The rising number of obese and overweight adults and young people in the South-East Asian region is likely to put more individuals at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, according to data gathered by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), for a report that seeks to highlight the economic impact of obesity.

The data correlates with details in an article by The Straits Times – under the headline “Rising obesity among young set to worsen diabetes rate,” it pointed to data from a study conducted in Singapore by the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, National University of Singapore, which warned that 34 per cent of people aged between 24 and 35 may become diabetic by the time they reach 65.

While The Straits Times article highlighted the likelihood of an increase in the prevalence of diabetes in Singapore – already among the highest in the developed world, the EIU study presented data from the World Health Organization (WHO), which indicates that between 2000 and 2030, the prevalence rate of diabetes is expected to more than double in the ASEAN Six – Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – as obesity rates continue to rise.

According to an EIU inception report, based on WHO data, Singapore experienced a 24-per cent change in the number of obese adults during the period between 2010 and 2014. During this same period, Indonesia experienced a 33-per cent change in the number of obese individuals, while Vietnam saw a 38-per cent change, Malaysia a 33-per cent change and Thailand a 27-per cent change. During this same period (2010 to 2014), the number of obese individuals in the United Kingdom and the United States of America increased by only 10 per cent and 8 per cent, respectively.

This statistic was one among several key figures on obesity and its economic impact, highlighted in an inception report on “The Current Landscape and State of Health in Relation to Obesity in South-East Asia”, prepared by EIU for a study commissioned by the Asia Roundtable on Food Innovation for Improved Nutrition (ARoFIIN) and the Health Promotion Board of Singapore (HPB). Key findings from this inception report were presented to government, regulators, academia, civil society and the food industry from around the Asian region at the official launch of the study, which took place during the second annual ARoFIIN Roundtable in Singapore on 29 January 2016.

Being overweight or obese increases an individual’s risk of diseases and conditions such as heart disease or stroke, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers. The EIU inception study points to research that shows that South-East Asia is already facing an epidemic of chronic, non-communicable diseases, which now account for 60 per cent of all deaths in the region.

Experts warn that the rise in obesity rates in South-East Asia is likely to have an impact on the health of the region’s population, as well as its health systems.

The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) puts the number of diabetics at approximately 387 million globally, with just over 500,000 people aged between 20 and 79 with this disease in Singapore (as of 2014). The percentage of people with diabetes in Singapore was only 4.7 per cent about 30 years ago. Now, according to the IDF, its prevalence is almost at 13 per cent among those aged between 20 and 79. This is a considerable increase that is forecast to exponentially grow if no intervention is made, says Professor Jeyakumar Henry, Director of the Clinical Nutrition Research Centre (CNRC), Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Singapore.

“Particularly for Asia, the prevalence of diabetes is increasing fast and it’s affecting younger people. Asian diabetic patients contribute to more than 60 per cent of the diabetic population, and four of the top ten countries with the most cases of diabetes are in Asia (China, India, Indonesia and Japan). Diabetes was more common among men than women, and Indians were most likely to have diabetes, followed by the Malays and the Chinese. The largest number of people with diabetes are aged between 40 and 59, compared to Europe – where most diabetics are over 60,” said Professor Henry.

According to him, body composition, phenotype and diet in Asia are very different compared to those in other regions. Asian foods are mostly composed of white rice. Total caloric contribution of carbohydrates in Asians was up to 70 per cent, compared to just 42 per cent in the UK. He highlighted the work being done by the CNRC in Singapore, to develop a solution to the problem.

“The CNRC does research on Asian foods and on the Asian phenotype. The CNRC is Asia-focused, with a global vision. By focusing primarily on the Asian phenotype, we understand how metabolic health affects us in Asia. Most importantly, we look at foods and food ingredients that are locally available, which can be used to reduce the risk of obesity and non-communicable diseases like Type 2 diabetes,” he said.

While the likelihood that rising obesity in the ASEAN Six will lead to an increase in non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, Dr Simon Baptist, Chief Economist with the EIU, says that more evidence is needed on the economic impact of obesity in ASEAN and, importantly, which policy responses by regulators, the food industry and governments make sense in an ASEAN context.

“The current prevalence of obesity in many ASEAN countries is low by global standards—although with some exceptions for childhood obesity—but the rate is rising fast and the large populations of some countries mean that they have some of the largest numbers of overweight and obese people,” Dr Baptist said.

He added, “While it is early days yet and we are just kicking off this study, initial research indicates that childhood obesity rates are growing faster in the ASEAN Six than in Japan, the UK and USA."

"The Current Landscape and State of Health in Relation to Obesity in South-East Asia” report will be the first time the economic impact of obesity across ASEAN will be looked at. The final report, which is expected to be completed at the end of October 2016, will indicate the scale of both the direct and indirect economics costs of obesity, as well as assess policy interventions.

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