September 28, 2005

Why So Many of Us Are Getting Diabetes

To the dismay of health experts, diabetes is becoming a global problem. In the next couple of decades, the prevalence of diabetes is expected to triple in Africa, the eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, to double in the western Pacific and to nearly double in Europe. With an estimated 33 million cases, India has the most people with diabetes; China has 23 million.

Lots of doctors will tell you that the reason for the explosion is obvious: Americans are eating too much and exercising too little, and much of the world is following our bad example. There is no question that excessive weight increases your risk of becoming diabetic. But that explains only part of the problem. Diabetes has a strong genetic component, and scientists are beginning to suspect that certain evolutionary factors, as well as your mother's metabolic or nutritional status during pregnancy, may predispose you to develop diabetes. That may explain why Indians from the subcontinent often become diabetic after gaining just a few pounds and why the consequences of obesity seem far more devastating for Americans of African, as opposed to European, descent.

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