Increase in Diabetes Worldwide: Actual Development Overtakes Forecasts

An analysis of current projections of the worldwide number of people with diabetes shows that the predicted increase will be reached considerably sooner than assumed on the basis of the projection models. This indicates that the sharp increase in diabetes that is already expected in the coming decades will be even greater.

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Every year, the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) publishes new projections on the future development of diabetes prevalence. Researchers at the German Diabetes Center (DDZ) have now compared for the first time the extent to which the observed disease prevalence reported by the IDF differs from the IDF projections. The latest report estimates that the number of people living with diabetes worldwide reached 537 million in 2021 and will rise to 783 million in 2045. For these assessments, the IDF carries out extensive research in order to analyze the data available worldwide on the current age-specific diabetes prevalence. These data are updated and offset against the expected population development to determine the future prevalence of the disease. The IDF's projections receive worldwide attention and are used by both scientists and decision-makers to estimate the future disease burden of diabetes.

"However, we suspect that these projections underestimate the actual process and do not reflect the full dynamics of the development," said Professor Oliver Kuß, director of the Institute of Biometry and Epidemiology at the DDZ. "Our findings show that the predicted number of people with diabetes can be observed on average already about 12 years before the calculated date. This corresponds to about 195 million more people with diabetes than would be assumed based on the projection."

"These results indicate that the already significant increase could be even greater than previously assumed," said Dr. Thaddäus Tönnies, first author of the study and scientist at the DDZ. “The results also show that there is a need for further research into projection methods. Especially with regard to the data situation, there is a need to catch up worldwide, but also in Germany.”

Overall, the results of this study show that the number of people worldwide affected by diabetes could increase significantly more in the future than previously assumed. Prevention measures that reduce the risk of diabetes in the population can counteract this development. Beyond this, the DDZ and its partners will continue to raise public awareness of the topic and expand its prevention work.

Original publication:
Tönnies T, Rathmann W, Hoyer A, Brinks R, Kuss O. Quantifying the underestimation of projected global diabetes prevalence by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) Diabetes Atlas. BMJ Open Diabetes Res Care. 2021 Aug;9(1):e002122. doi: 10.1136/bmjdrc-2021-002122.