Review Article | Published:

Global aetiology and epidemiology of type 2 diabetes mellitus and its complications

Nature Reviews Endocrinology volume 14, pages 8898 (2018) | Download Citation

Abstract

Globally, the number of people with diabetes mellitus has quadrupled in the past three decades, and diabetes mellitus is the ninth major cause of death. About 1 in 11 adults worldwide now have diabetes mellitus, 90% of whom have type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM). Asia is a major area of the rapidly emerging T2DM global epidemic, with China and India the top two epicentres. Although genetic predisposition partly determines individual susceptibility to T2DM, an unhealthy diet and a sedentary lifestyle are important drivers of the current global epidemic; early developmental factors (such as intrauterine exposures) also have a role in susceptibility to T2DM later in life. Many cases of T2DM could be prevented with lifestyle changes, including maintaining a healthy body weight, consuming a healthy diet, staying physically active, not smoking and drinking alcohol in moderation. Most patients with T2DM have at least one complication, and cardiovascular complications are the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in these patients. This Review provides an updated view of the global epidemiology of T2DM, as well as dietary, lifestyle and other risk factors for T2DM and its complications.

Key points

  • Globally, about 1 in 11 adults have diabetes mellitus (90% have type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM)), and Asia is the epicentre of this global T2DM epidemic.

  • The major driving factors of the global T2DM epidemic include overweight and obesity, sedentary lifestyle and increased consumption of unhealthy diets containing high levels of red meat and processed meat, refined grains and sugar-sweetened beverages.

  • Given its global influence, it is essential to break the vicious cycle of diabetes mellitus begetting diabetes mellitus over generations by implementing effective strategies to prevent gestational diabetes mellitus.

  • Among patients with T2DM, cardiovascular complications are the leading cause of morbidity and mortality, and kidney complications are highly prevalent in patients in Asia with diabetes mellitus.

  • Major clinical trials have demonstrated that diet and lifestyle modifications are effective in preventing T2DM in high-risk individuals.

  • T2DM management strategies including lifestyle modifications, social support and ensuring medication adherence are key to reducing the incidence of diabetes mellitus complications.

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Acknowledgements

Y.Z. was supported by fellowship 7-12-MN-34 from the American Diabetes Association.

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Affiliations

  1. State Key Laboratory of Genetic Engineering, School of Life Sciences, Fudan University, 2005 Songhu Road, Shanghai, China.

    • Yan Zheng
  2. Department of Nutrition, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 2005 Songhu Road, Shanghai, China.

    • Yan Zheng
    • , Sylvia H. Ley
    •  & Frank B. Hu
  3. Department of Epidemiology, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 665 Huntington Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.

    • Frank B. Hu
  4. Channing Division of Network Medicine, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, 181 Longwood Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.

    • Sylvia H. Ley
    •  & Frank B. Hu

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Y.Z. and F.B.H. researched data for the article, contributed to discussion of the content, wrote the article and reviewed and/or edited the manuscript before submission. S.H.L. contributed to discussion of the content and reviewed and/or edited the manuscript before submission.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Frank B. Hu.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nrendo.2017.151

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