Global Health

World Diabetes Day: What is prediabetes? 

Sugar cubes besides 'Diabetes' dices.

Prediabetes ... around 80% of people with the condition don’t know they have it. Image: Pexels/Nataliya Vaitkevich

Charlotte Edmond
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Global Health

  • Insulin was discovered a century ago, revolutionizing diabetes management, but there are many more diabetics now than then.
  • Prediabetes is a condition where blood sugar levels are high, but not yet in the range that would be classed as diabetes.
  • The World Economic Forum’s Global Health and Healthcare Strategic Outlook discusses how healthcare systems can become more resilient in the face of the rising prevalence of diseases such as diabetes.

A century ago, Frederick Banting and John Macleod shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their discovery of insulin, a hormone that has transformed – and saved – the lives of diabetics around the world.

Before insulin was discovered, the prognosis for those living with diabetes was far from optimistic – a short life on a strict diet. Now, millions of people manage their health with insulin, and blood sugar monitoring has become the norm.

But while science has advanced diabetes management, the condition itself has been steadily increasing in prevalence in recent decades, with around 422 million people worldwide having the disease. Millions more – over one in three people in the US alone – have prediabetes, putting them on a path to develop the disease unless action is taken.

Graph illustrating the adult prevalence of diabetes in selected countries.
Over 420 million people worldwide have diabetes. Image: Statista

What is prediabetes?

Diabetes is a condition that results in a person’s blood sugar levels becoming too high. There are two main types of diabetes. Type 1 is an inherited, lifelong condition whereby the body’s immune system prevents it from producing insulin, which is vital in controlling sugar levels.

In type 2 diabetes, the body does not produce enough insulin or react to it properly. This type of diabetes has no clear genetic pathway and is on the rise globally.

Prediabetes – also known as non-diabetic hyperglycaemia – is when someone has a blood sugar level above the normal range, but it has not yet reached a high enough point to be classed as diabetes. However, the condition puts them at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, as well as heart disease and stroke.

Table illustrating the estimated number, percentage, and awareness of prediabetes among adults aged 18 years or older, United States, 2017–2020 and 2019
In the US, an estimated 96 million people aged 18 or over had prediabetes in 2019. Image: US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

What can I do about prediabetes?

Although it is not classed as diabetes, prediabetes is still a serious condition.

But it doesn’t have any symptoms, and the first symptoms people may notice are those of diabetes itself. This is why around 80% of people with prediabetes don’t know they have it, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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The risk of developing diabetes can be reduced by making lifestyle changes, including altering your diet and doing more exercise. In some countries, dedicated programmes exist to help people make these changes.

If you have been diagnosed as having prediabetes, regular monitoring of your blood sugar levels is required in case the condition develops into diabetes. The earlier diabetes is diagnosed, the better. This can prevent the disease getting worse and help avoid long-term health problems.

How can I lower my risk of diabetes?

There are no lifestyle changes you can make that will lower your risk of type 1 diabetes, but maintaining a healthy lifestyle will help avoid the onset of type 2.

Risk factors for developing type 2 include being overweight or obese, an unhealthy diet, and high blood pressure. You are more at risk if you are white and over 40, or over 25 and African-Caribbean, Black African or South Asian, according to Diabetes UK.

You are also more likely to develop diabetes if you have a family member with the condition.

Meanwhile, air pollution may have a link to high blood sugar levels and type 2 diabetes, a new study from India has found.

Have you read?

Diabetes: a growing concern for health systems

The prevalence of diabetes has risen from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014, and it has grown more rapidly in low- and middle-income countries than in higher-income countries. The condition is also a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputation, according to the World Health Organization (WHO)

Diabetes is one of a number of increasingly prevalent conditions that are putting healthcare systems around the world under strain. And as with many conditions, prevention is better – and less costly – than treatment.

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What is the World Economic Forum doing about healthcare value and spending?

The World Economic Forum’s Global Health and Healthcare Strategic Outlook discusses steps to be taken to help build more resilient healthcare systems that are able to cope with complex and interconnected stresses.

Diabetes is also an issue being addressed by the Forum’s Global Coalition for Value in Healthcare, a platform to enable partnerships, networking and knowledge-sharing among early adopters in value-based healthcare.

SDCC, a specialized diabetes care hospital in Denmark and a member of the hub, has brought in integrated treatment, prevention methods and education that have led to a significant reduction in diabetes-related complications.

"Diabetes and prediabetes is a growing health concern around the world. It is putting an increasing strain on healthcare systems, especially in lower- and middle-income countries. That is why initiatives such as the World Economic Forum’s Global Coalition for Value in Healthcare are so important, helping share knowledge and best practices to reverse these alarming trends."

Shyam Bishen, Head of the Centre for Health and Healthcare at the World Economic Forum

Do you have risk factors for prediabetes? Take the test here.

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