Diabetes Increasing Rapidly in China

In November 2008, the Chinese Diabetes Society (CDS) released the results of its study into the epidemiology of diabetes in China. The results suggested that diabetes is becoming prevalent in China more rapidly than previously estimated, increasing the market prospects for Western drugs and devices treating diabetes.

The CDS found that the prevalence of diabetes among Chinese between 20 and 70 years old is now 10.5%, or 9.5% for women and 12% for men. This is about double the prevalence in 2001, and four times the prevalence in 1994. The study estimated that there are about 40 million Chinese suffering from diabetes in urban areas, and 20 million in rural areas.

Diabetes is one of the chronic diseases that are becoming increasingly prevalent in China in response to changing lifestyles. As incomes rise with economic development, and people move from agriculture to more sedentary occupations, more and more Chinese are now overweight or obese, both risk factors for diabetes. Chinese people living in cities are much more likely to have diabetes. About 55% of the Chinese population is rural, but two-thirds of diabetes sufferers (as estimated by the study) were urban.

However, for diabetes treatment to improve in response to this rapid rise, popular awareness of the disease will need to increase. Many Chinese do not know they have diabetes. Also, maintenance practices like blood glucose self-monitoring are low in China compared to other Asian countries.

As part of the effort to increase awareness, Eli Lilly, Roche, and Becton Dickinson are collaboratively funding the China Diabetes Education Program, which has given comprehensive diabetes training to over 37,000 medical professionals and 170,000 patients. With longer experience of diabetes in their own countries, as well as higher R&D levels, western firms should have a competitive advantage in developing and marketing diabetes products in China.

The CDS is a member of the International Diabetes Federation. In 2007, it entered into a partnership with Eli Lilly and two European diabetes societies to fund and conduct collaborative European-Chinese diabetes research. Its current study took over a year to conduct and surveyed 40,000 people in 14 provinces.