India and China are leading a global explosion in the diabetes epidemic, with the numbers of sufferers worldwide expected to grow more than 50 percent by 2025, a leading researcher said Tuesday.
Paul Zimmet, a pioneering diabetes researcher and foundation director of the International Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia, says the number of people with type two diabetes is expected to increase from 250 million last year to 380 million by 2025.
"But it already appears those estimates may be an under-estimate," Zimmet said on the sidelines of the International Diabetes Federation's western Pacific region congress in the New Zealand capital Wellington.
"People look at you incredulously, but it's a galloping epidemic."
Type two diabetes, which usually takes hold in adulthood, can cause conditions ranging from kidney failure, to blindness and heart disease and complications can lead to death.
The liver does not produce enough insulin or becomes resistant to insulin, which controls blood sugar levels. The most common cause of type two diabetes is obesity caused by poor diet and a lack of exercise.
The disease has become rampant in both developed and developing countries as a result of traditional diets being abandoned for processed and junk foods and people getting less exercise.
Rapid modernisation in Asia means about two-thirds of all cases worldwide are found in the Asia-Pacific region, Zimmet said.
"India and China are places where diabetes is positively exploding," he said.
China, where more than 40 million people have type two diabetes or its precursor, appears to be taking the problem seriously.
"It has become a national health priority in China," he said.
The Chinese government has approved certain drugs for treating pre-diabetes conditions, whereas governments in the West are slow to recognise the condition before the onset of full diabetes.
Zimmet admits he is frustrated the epidemic is growing so fast more than 30 years after he warned it was imminent.
He said governments have to realise diabetes needs to be tackled much more broadly than merely as a medical condition.
"Some governments are like nanny states, and they're putting a lot of blame on individuals. I don't see it that way.
"A lot of people who are fighting against obesity are just focusing on food advertising.
"I call these people the food Taliban because they're ignoring changes in physical exercise in the community. Exercise is engineered out of our lives.
He cites new housing areas in Australia built without footpaths and parents' reluctance to let their children walk or cycle to school.
"So I would get governments to focus on creating an environment that's conducive for people to do the things they should do to prevent -- not only diabetes -- but obesity and heart disease."
The congress has gathered 1,700 delegates from the Asia Pacific region to review progress in tackling the diabetes epidemic.