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. New Caledonia (20%)

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.

9. Mauritius (21%)

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.

8. Bahrain (22%)

Bahrain is a Middle Eastern island country located in the western portion of the Persian Gulf. With the country being officially designated as a constitutional monarchy, it’s the King who actually governs the nation and holds all of the political power. This Islamic nation has benefitted significantly from investments in the tourism and banking industries. Because it's the home base for a number of financial institutions, Bahrain has achieved the status of having a high income economy. Unfortunately, monetary success hasn’t cured all the ills of the country. Bahrain is currently in the midst of an epidemic in terms of obesity rates among its citizens and, subsequently, high rates of diabetes as well.

7. Kuwait (23%)

Kuwait is a Middle Eastern country located at the northern tip of the Persian Gulf. Bordering Saudi Arabia and Iraq, this Arab nation has a population estimated to be at just over four million people. Kuwait boasts of having an affluent economy, and the country contains the sixth largest oil reserves in the world. The World Bank also ranks Kuwait as having the fourth highest per capita income, with its dinar rated as being the world’s most valuable currency. According to the International Diabetes Federation, last year there were almost 400,000 reported cases of diabetes in Kuwait, and in the same year about 1,142 adults died there due to this chronic disease.

6. Vanuatu (24%)

Vanuatu is an island chain located in the South Pacific Ocean. The country is composed of a number of mountainous and volcanic islands, with a landscape dominated by rain forests. Vanuatu has three official languages. Namely, these are English, French, and Bislama. Most residents of Vanuatu are farmers. Out of a population of almost 250,000, the International Diabetes Federation reported that, in 2015, there were 20,300 cases of diabetes among adults alone. Among the challenges facing Vanuatu is the problem of providing proper health care to the majority of its isolated, rural based citizens. Instead of receiving these vital services from the government, many locals must rely on churches or other social organizations to meet their medical needs.

5. Saudi Arabia (24%)

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.

4. French Polynesia (24%)

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.

3. Kiribati (26%)

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.

2. Micronesia (36%)

As its name implies, Micronesia is a very small nation. It consists of thousands of tiny islands in the Pacific Ocean. This Oceanic country includes four main groups of islands, and is home to just over 100,000 people. Due to its tropical climate and limited land area, residents in Micronesia have traditionally consumed a diet limited to locally produced foods, such as fish, taro, yam, potato, chicken, and pork. One of the region's most popular dishes is kelaguen, a chamorro dish made up of chicken, fish, beef, or raw shrimp which is pickled in a marinade of local ingredients such as coconut, lemon juice, green onions, and peppers which are then served over rice or wrapped in a tortilla. Still, today high levels of high calorie food commodity imports into the nation in departure from traditional diets has been correlated with higher risks for diabetes and obesity.

1. Marshall Islands (37%)

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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