Poor Diet Caused Global Surge in Type 2 Diabetes, Study Says

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April 17, 2023 -- A new study published in Nature Medicine concludes that a surge in global type 2 diabetes cases was driven by three major dietary factors: insufficient intake of whole grains, excess consumption of refined rice and wheat, and overconsumption of processed meat.

Researchers found there were 8.6 million more cases of type 2 diabetes in 2018 than in 1990 because of poor diet. Overall, diet contributed to over 14.1 million cases of type 2 diabetes in 2018, representing over 70% of new diagnoses globally.

Eating too many unhealthy foods was more of a driver of type 2 diabetes on a global level than a lack of eating wholesome foods, especially for men compared with women, younger compared to older adults, and in urban versus rural residents, CNN reported.

Researchers used information from the Global Dietary Database and a computer model to study dietary intake in 184 nations from 1990 to 2018. They also studied demographics from multiple sources, estimates of type 2 diabetes incidence around the world, and data on food choices and health from other papers, according to a news release[RE1] .

 Of the 11 dietary factors considered, too little whole grains and too much refined rice and wheat and processed meat had “an outsized contribution” to the growth of type 2 diabetes.

“Our study suggests poor carbohydrate quality is a leading driver of diet-attributable type 2 diabetes globally, and with important variation by nation and over time,” senior author Dariush Mozaffarian, dean for policy at the Freidman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, said in the news release. “These new findings reveal critical areas for national and global focus to improve nutrition and reduce devastating burdens of diabetes.”

Every region of the world saw an increase in cases. The highest proportion of new cases was found in central and eastern Europe, central Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean and the lowest in South Asia. More cases were found in men rather than women and in people living in urban areas rather than rural areas.