Around 70% of new diagnoses of type 2 diabetes around the world have been linked to poor diet, according to new findings.

A research model of dietary intake across 184 countries has been used to estimate that poor diet had a key role to play in just over 14 million cases of type 2 diabetes in 2018.

The study has also provided further understanding into the differences in diet by region that are behind the increase in cases.

A key finding is that there are three dietary factors playing a significant role in increasing levels of type 2 diabetes cases:

Other factors including consuming too much fruit juice and not eating enough nuts, seeds or non-starchy vegetables, have less of an impact, researchers say.

The team from Tufts University in America analysed data from 1990 and 2018, using information from the Global Dietary Database, population demographics, global type 2 diabetes incidence estimates, and data from a number of published papers on how food choices affect people living with obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Senior author Dariush Mozaffarian, Jean Mayer Professor of Nutrition from Tufts University, said: “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.

“These new findings reveal critical areas for national and global focus to improve nutrition and reduce devastating burdens of diabetes.”

The research has also shown that poor diet is behind larger numbers of men with type 2 diabetes compared to women, and greater numbers of young adults. Higher incidence was also found in urban areas.

The analysis found that in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia – in particular Russia and Polandred meat, processed meat and potatoes make up a significant proportion of the average diet, and these areas also had the highest number of type 2 diabetes cases linked to diet.

Rates were also high in Latin America and the Caribbean, in particular Colombia and Mexico, which was attributed to greater consumption of processed meat and sugary drinks and not enough whole grains.

Areas where diet had a less significant effect on type 2 diabetes cases included South Asia and Sub-Sharan Africa, although the biggest increases in cases linked to poor diet between 1990 and 2018 were seen in Sub-Saharan Africa.

First author Meghan O’Hearn, who carried out the study as a PhD candidate at the Friedman School, said: “Left unchecked and with incidence only projected to rise, type 2 diabetes will continue to impact population health, economic productivity, health care system capacity, and drive heath inequities worldwide. These findings can help inform nutritional priorities for clinicians, policymakers, and private sector actors as they encourage healthier dietary choices that address this global epidemic.”

Read the study in the journal Nature Medicine.

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