World Facts

Countries With The Highest Rates Of Diabetes

Oil-rich Arabian countries and select Pacific island nations have some of the highest rates of diabetes in the world.

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder characterized by high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) due to insufficient secretion of insulin or insensitivity to this hormone. High levels of blood sugar can lead to severe consequences, including organ failure, loss of sight, neuropathy, coma, and even death. Stress, inactivity, nutritionally-poor and energy-dense diets, and being obese are not only correlated one with another, but can also work either independently or interdependently to decrease the human body’s ability to secrete insulin and its sensitivity to its actions.

10. Saudi Arabia (17.7%)

In Saudi Arabia, 17.7% of the population has diabetes. This is the tenth highest rate in the world. Saudi Arabia is a wealthy Middle Eastern country with an economy based on its abundance of natural oil resources. Large in terms of area, this Arab nation holds the historical distinction of being the place where Islam was born. With a population of over 28 million people, Saudi Arabia operates under strict religious and government rules. The country is often in the news for its repressive human rights actions (especially in regards to women), and for state-sanctioned violence, such as beheadings and lashings, which are often carried out in full public view. Often referred to as "the Land of the Two Holy Mosques", 90% of the population of Saudi Arabia are Arabic, with most of the remaining minority of its citizenry consisting of other African and Middle Eastern people.

9. Soloman Islands (18.7%)

The Soloman Islands are made up of six major islands in the Pacific region. The country has the ninth largest diabetes prevalence in the world, with around 18.7% of the population suffering from the illness. It is estimated that patients with diabetes account for nearly half of the total patients in hospitals in the Soloman Islands. Many of the cases of diabetes in the Soloman Islands have been attributed to lifestyle and obesity. 

8. Guam (21.5%)

Guam is an American overseas territory in the South Pacific. It is said that the high temperatures in Guam, which is in the Southern Pacific, may encouraging a lifestyle with limited movement. 

7. Mauritius (22%)

The small country of Mauritius, with a population of just over one million people, is located just off the coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. Despite being described as a virtual tropical paradise by both locals and tourists alike, Mauritius isn’t immune to the worldwide epidemic of rising rates of diabetes. Key among the known risk factors for this chronic disease are smoking and being overweight. According to 2014 statistics from the World Health Organization, almost forty per cent of Mauritius’ male residents were smokers. Poor nutrition, as well as obesity, are also among the leading health concerns in this country, and all of these factors make people more susceptible to developing diabetes.

6. French Polynesia (22.6%)

French Polynesia is comprised of over one hundred islands which are situated in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean. As its name would suggest, the country was once a French territory, but is now considered to be an “overseas collectivity” of France, complete with its own political autonomy. The tropical nation includes the popular travel destinations of Tahiti and Bora Bora. Both of these vacation resorts play major roles in the country’s tourist industry, as well as contributing to its overall economy. Along with fish and cobalt, French Polynesia is also known for exporting agricultural products such as coconuts, vanilla, and Tahitian black pearls. Unfortunately, they are also known for their high rates of both obesity and diabetes.

5. Kiribati (22.7%)

Kiribati is made up of over thirty reef islands and atolls, as well as the raised coral island of Banaba. Once a colony of the United Kingdom, this group of islands in the Pacific Ocean is overwhelmingly populated by citizens of Micronesian descent. As a nation, Kiribati faces a number of serious challenges in terms of health care. Among the problems local residents must deal with are diseases such as tuberculosis, AIDS, and diabetes, as well as issues related to sanitation, a shortage of fresh water, food contamination, and high rates of infant mortality. One of the reasons behind Kiribati’s high rate of diabetes may be the fact that over half of its population are smokers.

4. New Caledonia (23.4%)

The nation of New Caledonia consists of a number of small islands in the South Pacific Ocean. In 1999, this country, located just east of the continent of Australia, was afforded the status of being a "special collectivity" of France. With roots dating back to the days of French colonialism, the current populace is made up of a mix of Kanak (the indigenous people of New Caledonia), Europeans, and Polynesians, as well as many of Southeast Asian descent. Perhaps one of the reasons behind the country's high rate of diabetes is its limited domestic agricultural industry, which has resulted in making it harder for local residents of this tropical locale to have adequate access to a varied, healthy diet.

3. Nauru (24.1%)

Nauru has a diabetes rate of 24.1% among their adult population. Nauru also has an obesity epidemic, something that has contributed to the country's high rate of diabetes. 

2. Tuvalu (27.3%)

Tuvalu is a small island in the South Pacific. 27.3% of the population of Tuvalu suffers from diabetes. This is partially due to the predisposition of those with Polynesia heritage to diabetes. Diabetes is a leading cause of death for citizens of Tuvalu. There is what is called a "junk food epidemic" in Tuvalu. It is estimated that the vast majority of citizens do not get their recommended daily doses of fruits and vegetables. 

1. Marshall Islands (30.5%)

Like some of the other countries which have the world’s highest rates of diabetes, the Marshall Islands is an isolated island nation located in the Pacific Ocean. Of the approximately 50,000 residents who live there, most of are native Marshallese. From 1946 to 1958, the Marshall Islands were the site of numerous U.S. nuclear weapons tests. Aside from the environmental contamination from this activity, local residents were also exposed to dangerous radiation levels during this time. According to the World Health Organization, the leading reason why the Marshall Islands has such a high rate of diabetes is due to its residents shifting away from a diet rich in homegrown, local food, and towards a more Americanized diet largely consisting of processed foods instead.

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