The more common type of diabetes in China grew by 30 per cent in just seven years, according to a new survey of thousands of Shanghai residents.
The curse of affluence appears to be affecting China as it has many other developing countries.
"There is a certainly a pattern that we're seeing over and over again," said Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, the vice president for global health at Emory University.
People with type 2 diabetes have trouble processing sugar in their blood, but do not generally require insulin to manage the condition. As countries become more wealthy, lifestyle factors associated with type 2 diabetes -- such as weight gain, less healthy diets and less physical activity -- tend to become more common.
"Unlike the gradual transition in most Western countries, these changes in China have occurred over a very short time," the researchers, led by Dr. Rui Li at the Shanghai Municipal Center for Disease Control and Prevention, write in their study in the journal Diabetes Care.
The research team interviewed more than 12,000 people in 2002 and 2003. They asked whether the participants had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and they screened people for diabetes who had not been diagnosed before.
They found that 9.7 per cent of people had diabetes.
The researchers surveyed about 7,400 people again in 2009, and found that 12.6 per cent of people had the disease.
"That's a remarkable increase in seven years," Koplan told Reuters Health.
The spike was even more dramatic among the rural residents in the study -- going from 6.1 per cent to 9.8 per cent, a 60 per cent increase.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 8.3 per cent of Americans have diabetes.
REASONS FOR INCREASE UNCLEAR
In 2010 China surged to the head of the pack in terms of countries with the most diabetic residents, with 92 million in 2010. The study did not pinpoint the causes of the rise in diabetes, and Koplan said he could only speculate on what's to blame.
He said that it's been well documented that people are getting wealthier and heavier in China and diets are including more saturated fat.
He also said people are becoming more dependent on cars and less inclined to walk or ride a bike.
"All these factors would help contribute to having an increased prevalence in type 2 diabetes," said Koplan, who did not participate in the research.
The authors write in their study that an aging population in China likely explains some of their findings.
Older people are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, and the researchers note that 20 per cent of Shanghai residents are over age 60, with that proportion increasing.
Koplan said many countries have programs to promote healthy lifestyles and prevent type 2 diabetes, but as of yet there's "not a proven documented intervention that can reverse this epidemic of obesity and epidemic of type 2 diabetes."