China now holds the dubious distinction of having not only the highest number of diabetes cases of any country in the world, but also having the highest percentage incidence rate.
A clinical study recently published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reports diabetes rates in China have reached 11.6 percent in the adult population. The study, conducted in 2010, analyzed data collected from nearly 99,000 participants. It estimates just over 12 percent of men and 11 percent of women in China suffer from the disease. Combined, these percentages represent 113 million people.
Diabetes — called tangniaobing (糖尿病) in Chinese — was not the only focus of the report. Researchers also found that prediabetes rates in the country have skyrocketed. The JAMA findings say that as many as 493 million people suffer from abnormal blood sugar levels that can be a precursor to developing the disease.
As recently as 1981, diabetes was barely a concern in China, reportedly affecting less than one percent of the population. The spectacular increase in cases has often been linked to China's economic rise, and concurrent rise in consumption, over the past 30 years.
Although scientific studies have not conclusively established such a connection, rates of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes are now much more prevalent in developed countries whose populations eat high-calorie diets and have more sedentary workforces. The JAMA study of China concluded residents living in China's "cities and economically developed areas" were more likely to develop the disease than rural residents.
GoKunming spoke with a doctor surnamed Xiong at the Yunnan Provincial Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine (云南省中医医院), which maintains a diabetes ward where treatments from Traditional Chinese and Western medicines are often used in tandem.
Although reticent to speculate on current diabetes numbers for either Kunming or Yunnan, Xiong explained that in her experience the number of people seeking treatment for the disease has risen noticeably. She also agreed with findings put forth in the JAMA findings, saying many people — according to the JAMA report 75 percent — receive no treatment for the disease.
We can treat it here when people come to the hospital. Kunming has several medical centers with wards devoted to diabetes, but rural areas in the province often lack doctors with adequate training or don't have access to medicine like insulin.
Shortly after the JAMA report was released, news service Bloomberg estimated the cost of treating everyone in China with diabetes could surpass US$22 billion annually.
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