Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the body’s ability to process glucose and regulate blood sugar. Rates of diabetes are increasing worldwide.

Share on Pinterest
An Indian nurse collects a blood sample using a glucometer at a free diabetic health check up camp on World Health Day in Hyderabad on April 7, 2016. NOAH SEELAM/Getty Images

More than 37 million adults are living with diabetes in the United States — a figure that has more than doubled in the last two decades. If diabetes is left untreated, it can cause serious health conditions that can affect various parts of the body, including the eyes, kidneys, and nerves.

The main two types of diabetes are type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes is where the body is unable to produce the hormone insulin. Type 2 — the most common form of diabetes — is where the body cannot effectively use insulin.

The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) reports that about 537 million people worldwide have diabetes. The number of cases has been increasing over the past few decades, and the IDF predicts 783 million people will have diabetes by 2045 — an increase of 46%.

Keep reading to learn more about how diabetes rates vary by country and measures that could help curb the diabetes epidemic.

People with type 2 diabetes have insulin resistance, meaning they cannot properly use insulin to regulate their blood sugar levels.

The following table shows the top 10 countries or territories with the highest estimated prevalence of diabetes in adults aged 20–79 in 2021. It is important to note that type 1 diabetes is most common in children, while type 2 diabetes is most common in adults, peaking in the middle and older ages. Therefore, these reported diabetes rates in adults mainly reflect type 2 diabetes.

CountryPrevalence of diabetes (%)
French Polynesia25.2
New Caledonia23.4
Northern Mariana Islands23.4
The Marshall Islands23.0
Mauritius 22.6

By comparison, in 2019, 11.3% of the U.S. population had diabetes — approximately 90–95% being type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is due to an autoimmune reaction that destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. The body needs insulin to control blood sugar levels — without it, people must take replacement insulin. Approximately 5–10% of people with diabetes have type 1.

The table below shows the 10 countries with the highest proportion of people aged 0–19 with type 1 diabetes:

CountryNumber of cases per 1,000 people
United Kingdom 39.1
Russian Federation35.7
Saudi Arabia27.8

Latest data shows the top five countries with the highest general population are approximately:

  • China — over 1 billion
  • India — over 1 billion
  • U.S. — 338 million
  • Indonesia — 275 million
  • Pakistan — 235 million

The IDF Global Diabetes Atlas provides estimated and projected prevalence rates of diabetes around the world.

Its most recent data from 2021 shows that China has the largest number of adults with diabetes, aged 20–79 years, followed by India and Pakistan. Furthermore, the IDF anticipates that these countries will continue to have the largest number of people with diabetes in 2045.

China currently has 140.9 million people with diabetes, which is set to increase to 174.4 million by 2045. Experts estimate there are also 72.8 million people in China with undiagnosed diabetes.

However, the countries with the largest number of people with diabetes mentioned above do not automatically have the highest prevalence of the condition. The highest comparative prevalence rates in 2021 were reported for Pakistan (30.8%), French Polynesia (25.2%), and Kuwait (24.9%). These countries are also estimated to have the highest overall comparative diabetes prevalence in 2045.

According to the IDF Global Diabetes Atlas, the African region currently has the lowest prevalence of diabetes at 4.5%. Experts believe that low levels of diabetes in Africa may partially be due to the low levels of urbanization and prevalence of obesity.

However, despite having the lowest prevalence, this number is expected to increase by 129% to 55 million people by 2045. The proportion of undiagnosed diabetes is also highest in the African Region at 53.6%.

The prevalence of type 2 diabetes is rising across all countries. It is likely due to a combination of factors, which includes:

  • aging populations
  • economic development
  • increasing urbanization

This leads to more sedentary lifestyles and possibly increased consumption of foods linked with obesity.

However, early detection, effective treatment, and longer survival also contribute to the rise in prevalence.

Various factors increase a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes, including family history, age, race, and ethnicity. However, people can help prevent or delay the condition by following a healthy lifestyle. This may involve:

  • Maintaining a moderate weight: Losing 5–7% of body weight can reduce the risk of diabetes in people who are overweight or have obesity.
  • Being physically active: Aiming for at least 30 minutes of exercise 5 days per week may be helpful. If an individual has been inactive for some time, they should start slowly and build to the goal.
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet: Eating smaller portions and foods high in unsaturated fats help reduce calorie intake and assist with weight loss or maintenance. Diets with lots of fruit, vegetables, lean meat, and whole grains are also essential.

Governments also have a role in stemming the incidence of diabetes. This might include increasing awareness about diabetes and obesity, as well as implementing policies that make healthy food options more affordable or available.

Learn more ways to help prevent type 2 diabetes.

The prevalence of diabetes is rising globally, particularly type 2 diabetes. Pakistan, French Polynesia, and Kuwait have the highest prevalence rates. African countries have the lowest rates.

People can help prevent type 2 diabetes by maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, and eating healthy foods. Governments also have a role in creating awareness and making healthy foods an option for everyone regardless of socioeconomic status.