New research suggests there are 92 million Chinese living with diabetes, that is nearly ten per cent of China’s 1.3 billion people, indicating that the disease is now a major health problem in the world’s most populated country.

You can read about the study by lead and corresponding author, Dr Wenying Yang from the Department of Endocrinology at the China-Japan Friendship Hospital in Beijing, and 19 colleagues, in the 25 March online issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, NEJM.

Lifestyle is changing rapidly in China, write the authors, raising concerns that diabetes may reach epidemic proportions.

Yang and colleagues estimated the prevalence of diabetes among Chinese adults by conducting a national study from June 2007 to May 2008. The data came from a representative sample of 46,239 adult participants, 20 years of age or older, from 14 provinces and municipalities of China.

To measure diabetes prevalence, the researchers used two sources: self reports (for previously diagnosed diabetes) and test results obtained by getting participants to fast overnight and then undergo oral glucose-tolerance tests (to identify undiagnosed diabetes and prediabetes by measuring impaired fasting glucose and impaired tolerance glucose).

The results showed that:

  • After standardizing for age, the prevalence of total diabetes (including previously diagnosed and previously undiagnosed) was 9.7 per cent (10.6 per cent for men and 8.8 per cent for women).
  • For prediabetes the figure was 15.5 per cent (16.1 per cent for men and 14.0 per cent for women).
  • This equates to 92.4 million adults with diabetes (50.2 million men and 42.2 million women) and 148.2 million with prediabetes (76.1 million men and 72.1 million women).
  • The prevalence of diabetes went up with age: 3.2, 11.5 and 20.4 per cent for participants aged 20 to 29, 40 to 59 and 60 and over, respectively.
  • It also went up with weight: 4.5, 7.6, 12.8, and 18.5 per cent for participants with BMI less than 18.5, from 18.5 to 24.9, from 25.0 to 29.9, and 30.0 and over, respectively (BMI, body mass index, is your weight in kilos divided by the square of your height in meters).
  • Diabetes was more prevalent among urban (11.4 per cent) than rural (8.2 per cent) residents.
  • The prevalence of isolated impaired glucose tolerance was higher than that of isolated impaired fasting glucose (11.0 versus 3.2 per cent for men and 10.9 versus 2.2 per cent for women).

The authors concluded that these estimates suggest:

“Diabetes has become a major public health problem in China and that strategies aimed at the prevention and treatment of diabetes are needed.”

They also noted that:

“Given its large population, China may bear a higher diabetes-related burden than any other country.”

Yang told AFP news agency that over the last ten years, as China’s economy has expanded quickly, people’s standard of living has improved and their lifestyles have changed.

“China’s economic development has gone from a situation of not being able to eat enough, of poverty, to having enough food and warm clothes, and doing much less exercise,” she added.

“Prevalence of Diabetes among Men and Women in China.”
Yang, Wenying, Lu, Juming, Weng, Jianping, Jia, Weiping, Ji, Linong, Xiao, Jianzhong, Shan, Zhongyan, Liu, Jie, Tian, Haoming, Ji, Qiuhe, Zhu, Dalong, Ge, Jiapu, Lin, Lixiang, Chen, Li, Guo, Xiaohui, Zhao, Zhigang, Li, Qiang, Zhou, Zhiguang, Shan, Guangliang, He, Jiang, the China National Diabetes and Metabolic Disorders Study Group.
N Engl J Med 2010 362: 1090-1101.
Published online 25 March 2010.

Additional source: AFP.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD