The number of people with diabetes has crossed 100 million; those who are pre-diabetic are another 136 million; and over 315 million have high blood pressure, according to an extensive study that mapped diabetes and other non-communicable diseases (NCD) across the country.

“It’s clear from this “metabolic health report card” that there is a marked increase in NCDs across the country, and it signals a call to action for the authorities to intervene with simple measures, including encouraging people to change their lifestyle,” said Dr. RM Anjana, President, Madras Diabetes Research Foundation (MDRF).  

Labelled the Indian Council of Medical Research-India Diabetes (ICMR-INDIAB) study, it was funded by the ICMR and Health Ministry and was done over 15 years, she said. MDRF was the national coordinating centre, and 31 experts from different parts of the country were involved in this study, published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology.

The study red-flagged the pre-diabetic numbers that showed equal prevalence across urban and rural populations. This was possibly due to changing lifestyles, increasing mechanisation etc., she said, adding that 60 percent of those in a pre-diabetic state were expected to become fully diabetic in about five years.

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The diverse findings on diabetes were also in line with the human development indicators, with Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Punjab, and Chandigarh, for example, seeing a higher prevalence of diabetes. Uttar Pradesh had the lowest prevalence of diabetes, and Goa had the highest, the study found. Previous international estimates of diabetes in the country pegged it at about 74 million. 

Pointing to successful public health campaigns including polio and HIV, for example, Dr. V Mohan, Chairman of the MDRF and senior author of the study, urged the government to run simple interventions, including campaigns on sensible eating and exercise, to prevent diabetes-linked complications. “If even 20 percent of those with diabetes develop complications like end-stage kidney disease, it becomes difficult to manage,” he said. 

People need to be told they can handle their health better by eating less carbohydrates and more vegetables and fruits, reducing their salt intake, increasing physical activity, and seeking more public spaces to walk, he said, adding that it would not just help manage diabetes but also other health concerns, including hypertension.  

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Granular details

About 1,13,043 individuals in 31 States and Union Territories were covered by the study that measured the prevalence of metabolic NCDs such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and dyslipidaemia. It also identified regional and State-level variations in the prevalence of these NCDs across the nation.

The new national estimates for 2021 also revealed that 254 million people had generalized obesity and 351 million had abdominal obesity. Additionally, 213 million people had hypercholesterolaemia.