The Globalization of the Diabetes Epidemic

BONNEAU, Claire
Publication Date 
2021

As globalization continues to bring everyone and everything closer together, not all of the trade-offs are necessarily positive. As we export our unique cultures and experiences around the globe, we also increase the spread of chronic health problems.

For much of the 20th century, a person’s likelihood of developing a chronic health disease like type II diabetes depended on the wealth of the country they lived in equally as much as their own biology and genetic factors. In wealthy, developed countries, people are much more likely to survive to old age and eventually pass away from diseases of affluence — chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes that primarily impact the ageing population. In contrast, people living in developing nations are much more likely to experience malnourishment, violence, and communicable diseases that have a major impact on their overall health and quality of life.

This distinction has proven to be true across many developed countries, including globalization giants like the United States. Even in the more economically disadvantaged areas of America, hardly anyone dies as a result of communicable diseases like tuberculosis, a disease that is still a serious problem in lesser developed nations. Alternatively, in low to middle-income countries, these types of health concerns are still a going concern. Alongside the increased risk of encountering a communicable disease, people living in these areas are also at a higher risk for developing diseases of affluence such as type II diabetes. In this way, people living in developing nations are more likely to experience cancer while also battling cholera infections, and someone living with diabetes is also more likely to be struggling with chronic malnourishment. This lack of distinction between diseases of affluence and communicable diseases puts people living in developing nations at a disadvantage.

In this new global landscape of health and disease, the impact of diabetes is truly overwhelming. Since 1980, the number of people living with diabetes has almost doubled from 152 million to between 285-347 million (1). As a result of this dramatic increase, health spending and global costs have also had to increase to meet the growing demand for care. In 2019, it is estimated that diabetes caused over 760 billion USD in health expenditures, making up about 10% of all global spending on adults (2).

As the prevalence of diabetes continues to grow around the world, we need to shift our attention to finding global solutions to this invisible epidemic. Understanding the connection between obesity, globalization, and diabetes is a great starting point in order to tackle this ever-growing global health problem.

Regional Focus 
Country focus 
Accessibility 
Language 
Type of material 
Content type