Diabetes looms as a larger health threat to Asians than bird flu, the World Health Organization (WHO) said yesterday, with data showing the disease will cause millions more deaths worldwide in the coming decades.
"This is a global diabetes tsunami, a catastrophe, that will become the health crisis of the 21st century and could reduce life expectancy globally for the first time in 200 years," said Paul Zimmet, director of the WHO's Collaborating Center for Diabetes and the International Diabetes Institute in Australia.
A new WHO report, Preventing Chronic Diseases: A Vital Investment, shows that chronic diseases, dominated by diabetes, cause twice as many deaths as infectious diseases, maternal perinatal conditions and malnutrition combined.
Without action, WHO said 388 million people globally will die from chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease in the next decade.
Zimmet said that Asia was at the heart of a new global health crisis, brought about by the "Coca-Colanization" and "Nintendoization" of its countries. Based on current trends, Asia is likely to suffer social and economic devastation from an escalating diabetes epidemic, he said in a statement.
Zimmet said new research shows worse medical outcomes for patients with both infectious disease and diabetes. For example, medications for HIV are causing diabetes and increased risk of heart attacks, he said.
Zimmet is in Bangkok to attend the International Diabetes Federation Western Pacific Congress.
Diabetes is a chronic disease that is caused by an inherited or acquired inability to produce enough insulin.
It results in high concentrations of glucose in the blood, which can damage many of the body's systems, in particular blood vessels and nerves.
Diabetes is among the leading causes of kidney failure, and heart disease accounts for 50 percent of all deaths of people with diabetes in industrialized countries, WHO figures show.