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Addressing the Diabetes Epidemic

November 14 is World Diabetes Day, an opportunity to reflect on the soaring rates of type 2 diabetes globally. Saudi Arabia, in particular, is experiencing a diabetes epidemic driven by changes in lifestyle habits. Understanding trends in prevalence, at-risk populations, lifestyle factors, and regional disparities can better inform your professional practice.

Diabetes Prevalence Trends

Saudi Arabia has the second-highest rate of type 2 diabetes in the Middle East and seventh highest in the world. In particular, prevalence has skyrocketed, with 13 percent of the Saudi population affected compared to 2.8 to 4.4 percent globally. 

At the same time, one in 10 people in the rest of the Saudi population have prediabetes and are at risk for developing diabetes. Saudis also have a high prevalence of cardiovascular disease (CVD), associated with 42 percent of mortalities.

Populations at Risk in Saudi Arabia

Saudi patients who are overweight or obese have the highest risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Additionally, rates of type 2 diabetes are higher in older adults and males compared to young people and females. Those aged 54 years and older are more likely to have type 2 diabetes. 

Recent data also shows that 49.2 percent of adults aged 60 and older have diabetes, which is an alarming finding. Without preventative measures and programs, these trends may lead to a future surge in cases and a critical public health concern. 

Lifestyle Factors

Lifestyle determinants strongly affect the development of type 2 diabetes and are related to socioeconomic changes. An overall unhealthy diet and a sedentary lifestyle drive obesity and lead to poor glycemic control and diabetes risk. 

A diet high in fatty foods, increased food intake, and lack of exercise all have a significant influence on the development of diabetes for Saudis. Additionally, the urbanization of Saudi Arabia and its rural areas may influence health behaviours, creating negative habits. 

These lifestyle factors also come with myriad other conditions, likely comorbidities, and have a bidirectional relationship with diabetes risk. About 50 to 80 percent of Saudis who develop type 2 diabetes also develop hypertension. Additionally, patients are more likely to have other conditions, such as high cholesterol, chronic renal disease, and chronic heart disease.

Regional Disparities

Areas within Saudi Arabia show notable disparities in the prevalence of diabetes, from 7.3 percent in Najran to 11 percent in Makkah. A study of hospital patients in Majmaah also found a prevalence rate of a staggering 34.6 percent. While this figure doesn’t represent the general population in this area, it does indicate rural regions may experience increasing rates of diabetes.

Researchers believe the rise in cases may be related to the urban growth in the Majmaah region, leading to increased financial opportunities and lifestyle changes. These changes may lead to habits based on convenience, favouring unhealthy foods and less physical activity.

Education and Diabetes Management

Education and simple changes toward healthy habits may help diabetes patients gain better glucose control and health outcomes. Healthcare professionals also benefit from understanding current trends and risk factors in diabetes in varying populations. Stay up to date on guidelines and research with the MDBriefCase community. Join for free