New IDF Diabetes Atlas: A ‘Wake-Up Call’ for Endocrinologists?

Doctor holding globe
Doctor holding globe
The United States appears to have the highest prevalence of diabetes compared with other developed nations.

About 415 million people around the world— which translates to about 1 of 11 people — have diabetes, according to the new International Diabetes Federation (IDF) Diabetes Atlas released at the World Diabetes Congress in Vancouver, Canada.

Data from the Diabetes Atlas also indicate that the United States has the highest prevalence of diabetes among developed nations, with 11% of the population aged 20 to 79 years having the disease.

Moreover, almost 30 million people in the United States have diabetes, which accounts for approximately two thirds of the number of cases of all the other 37 nations in the developed nation league combined (46 million).

Endocrinologists can play an important role in stemming the tide of diabetes cases by being at the forefront of care, according to Nam Cho, MD, PhD, chair of the IDF Diabetes Atlas committee.

It is time for endocrinologists to strongly voice their opinions to various organizations and government sectors to “stop this global health disaster,” noted Dr Cho.

“The issue is not only the 415 million people with diabetes; it is the 33 million new cases over the last 2 years,” he said. “The seventh edition [of the Diabetes Atlas] shows that the United States [has] the highest diabetes prevalence and the highest medical expenses for the care of diabetes in the world,” he told Endocrinology Advisor.

The new IDF Diabetes Atlas is not just “wake-up call but a call to duty” for all physicians, according to Dr Cho. He said the seriousness of the situation cannot be overstated. Therefore, endocrinologists and other physicians must become “a special ground force in the battle of diabetes.”

Also concerning is the nearly equal number of people with undiagnosed diabetes or those at high risk for diabetes, Dr Cho said. He underscored the important role that endocrinologists can play in identifying these people early on and implementing interventions before the disease progresses.

“Now is the time for [endocrinologists] to actively be involved in early screening procedures along with managing the cases after diagnosis,” Dr Cho noted.

In terms of prevalence, Singapore finished a close second to the United States (10.5%), followed by Malta (10%), Portugal (10%), and Cyprus (9.5%).

The countries with the lowest estimated prevalence in the 38-nation league were Lithuania (4%), Estonia (4%), and Ireland (4%), followed by Sweden (5%), Luxembourg (5%), the United Kingdom (5%), and Australia (5%).

The Diabetes Atlas league table includes countries in the European Union plus Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Israel, Andorra, Norway, Switzerland, and the United States. The individual country data follow the release of the Diabetes Atlas summary, revealing that an estimated 415 million people globally have diabetes in 2015, with almost half remaining undiagnosed (47%). Dr Cho explained that these numbers are only expected to get worse and eventually increase to around 642 million by 2040.

“The methodology used in seventh edition is more accurate and valid, and revealed that a stronger diabetes disaster is about to occur all over the world,” said Dr Cho. “But the good news is that early detection is possible, via primary and secondary prevention for better care and management of people with diabetes.”

The new Diabetes Atlas also suggests that approximately 75% of people with diabetes live in low-income and middle-income countries, and every 6 seconds, there is diabetes-related death.

While the United States leads the league table of developed nations in prevalence of diabetes, it is ranked 60th in terms of the global league. This is because of a “tsunami” of diabetes sweeping through the Middle East, Caribbean, and Latin American regions, as well as the multiple nations making up the Pacific Islands.

New data presented at this meeting show that island nations or territories in various regions take all of the top 5 positions in the global league. 

In first place, was Tokelau (prevalence, 30%), followed by Nauru (24%), Mauritius (22%), the Cook Islands (21%), and the Marshall Islands (21%). Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait are also all in the top 10.

China (110 million) and India (69 million) have the highest total numbers of people with diabetes, but not the highest prevalences.  China is 78th in the world (prevalence, 10%) and India is 76th (9%).

The 10 nations with the lowest estimated rates of diabetes globally are all in Africa. This is partly due to a higher prevalence of other diseases and lower life expectancy. However, prevalence rates in Africa are expected to double by 2040.

Petra Wilson, MD, who is the CEO of the IDF, emphasized the urgent need for action and that the IDF is asking governments to lead the way in creating healthier environments and implementing new fiscal policies.

It is time for governmental entities to start taxing unhealthful foods and using the revenues to help prevent and manage all types of diabetes, Dr Petra noted.


  1. International Diabetes Federation. IDF Diabetes Atlas, 7th edn. Brussels, Belgium: International Diabetes Federation, 2015.
  2. Roglic C. Updated Diabetes Atlas. Presented at the IDF World Diabetes Congress; November 30-December 4, 2015; Vancouver, Canada.