Which Countries Have The Highest Rates Of Diabetes?

The small island of Nauru in the South Pacific is believed to have the highest prevalence of diabetes in the world with a massive 31% of adults between 20 and 79 suffering from either type-1 or type-2 diabetes in 2010.

Obesity is the primary reason for the high diabetes rates in Nauru with more than 95% of the population classified as either overweight or obese making Nauru the fattest nation on the planet. This is due mainly to a shift away from traditional foods such as fish and coconuts to diets high in refined carbohydrates and cheap, high fat beef and lamb offcuts which are typically exported to South Pacific nations from New Zealand and Australia because they are unfit for either local consumption or export to the more lucrative European markets.

The incidence of diabetes in other countries varies dramatically from as high as 12-18% in the Middle East to as low as 2-3% in some African countries.

A study, published in the journal Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice last year, estimated the prevalence of diabetes for adults aged 20-79 for every country in the world.

The following table lists the 10 countries that were calculated to have the highest prevalence of diabetes in 2010. The prevalence estimates are age standardised to allow better cross-country comparisons.

Country Diabetes Prevalence
 Nauru  30.9%
 Untied Arab Emirates  18.7%
 Saudi Arabia  16.8%
 Mauritius  16.2%
 Bahrain  15.4%
 Reunion  15.3%
 Kuwait  14.6%
 Oman  13.4%
 Tonga  13.4%
 Malaysia  11.6%

The prevalence of diabetes in the United States is estimated to be 10.3% which is relatively high. By comparison, diabetes rates are 3.6% in the United Kingdom, 9.2% in Canada, and 5.7% in Australia. Worldwide, it is estimated that 6.4% of adults are living with diabetes and this figure is predicted to increase to 7.7% by 2030.

Because type-2 diabetes incidence is so strongly related to obesity and a sedentary lifestyle, it is no surprise that the African and poorer Asian countries tend to have the lowest rates of diabetes. Rwanda (1.6%), Mongolia (1.6%), Iceland (1.6%), and Burundi (1.8%) have the lowest rates of diabetes.

Iceland is an interesting case because it has an exceedingly low rate of diabetes for a developed country. Genetic factors, and a higher percentage of A2 milk consumption are possible explanations for the low rate in Iceland. A1 and A2 milk refer to whether A1 beta-casein or A2 beta-casein is the dominant form of casein protein found in a cows milk. There is some, albeit limited, evidence that A1 milk may promote the development of diabetes and heart disease.

A complete list of diabetes incidence rates can be found at Diabetes Atlas, which is run by the International Diabetes Federation.