Tuesday, July 23, 2019 | Updated at 5:00 AM ET


Chile Has Highest Diabetes Prevalence Rates in World

First Posted: Jul 07, 2015 03:53 PM EDT

Diabetes, the group of metabolic diseases defined by problems producing or using insulin, has overwhelmed the South American nation Chile. According to the International Diabetes Federation, approximately 1.7 million Chileans have diabetes, which exceeds the global average.

In 2003, the prevalence of diabetes in Chile was at 4.2 percent. Seven years later, the Ministry of Health reported that prevalence rates jumped to 9.4 percent. Today, numbers stand at the peak rate of 12.32 percent. Compare that to the U.S., where there are 29.1 million people (9.3 percent of the population) with diagnosed and undiagnosed diabetes in the U.S. Approximately 8.1 million people (27.8 percent) with diabetes are undiagnosed.  

Loreto Aguirre, the executive director of the Diabetic Association of Chile, spoke to Spanish-language Chilean publication La Tercera and offered reasoning behind the dramatic increase. He indicated that the number of individuals with type 2 diabetes can be attributed to the spike in the number of obese or overweight individuals.

"Before we saw cases in [people] over 60 years, but now [there are] more young people [ages] 30 or 40 who already have the disease," Aguirre said.

There are label laws and programs in place to help Chileans make informed choices when eating but take more than laws to correct attitudes about food. Teaching the importance of healthy eating habits and physical activity during early childhood is vital when devising plans to prevent an early onset of diabetes and instilling healthy habits and lifestyle that stay with children until adulthood.

Gestational diabetes, which occurs in pregnant women who've never had diabetes but have high blood glucose (sugar) levels during pregnancy, has also increased. According to a study conducted in 2003, diabetes was prevalent in 1.2 percent of pregnant women between 25 and 44 years old. Also, statistics from the Women's Health Program in the Public Health System revealed that in 2012, 5.1 percent of the women that entered prenatal care had diabetes.

More than half of the women who become pregnant become overweight during their pregnancy. With each gained pound, there is an increased likelihood that these women will develop gestational diabetes, which can be detrimental for mother and child. If the mother becomes overweight and develops diabetes, the child is more likely to become obese or have diabetes, according to experts at the UC Christus Health Network.

Of the total population of Chile, there were 8,956 adult deaths due to diabetes in 2014. The prevalence of diabetes in adults (20-79 years) is 12.3 percent and the cost per person with diabetes is 1,427 (USD). 

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