Updated 01 March 2017

Diabetes and our Indian population

Diabetes is a growing problem among the South African Indian population, and in India more than 30 million people are estimated to be diabetic.


Diabetes is a growing problem among the South African Indian population, and in India more than 30 million people are estimated to be diabetic.

Diabetes risk three times higher for Indians

Diabetes mellitus ranks third in South Africa after ischaemic heart disease and cancer in terms of morbidity and mortality. The prevalence in adults is 4% for whites, 5-8% for blacks and 13% for Indians. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released estimates, revealing that the number of diabetic patients in India far exceeds the number of diabetics in China or the USA.

Experts say that the world's largest diabetes epidemic is threatening India, with older people and people living in cities most at risk. The WHO estimates that between 10 and 12% of the urban Indian population and 4-6% of the rural population are diabetic. There is no reason to believe that the profile is much different in South Africa, as diabetes is mostly a hereditary disease.

In fact, if both the parents of a child are diabetic, the child's risk of diabetes increases to 99%. If only one parent is diabetic, the risk drops to 50%, which is still staggeringly high.

Diabetes strikes Indians a decade earlier

Amongst the Indian population both diabetes and ischaemic heart disease occur at least a decade younger than in other populations.

While changing eating habits and the adoption of a sedentary lifestyle could be the reason for the increase of type 2 diabetes in the urban Indian population, there is also an increase in the incidence of diabetes among the rural population, as well as an increase in the incidence of type 1 diabetes in both rural and urban populations.

While certain populations are more prone to diabetes and diabetic complications, much can be done to prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes, such as adopting healthier eating habits, getting regular exercise and regular testing for all those above the age of 30.

For more information on care and support of diabetes visit Diabetes South Africa or phone them on 086 111 3913.

 - (Diabetes SA/Health24, updated May 2009)


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Dr. May currently works as a fulltime endocrinologist and has been in private practice since 2004. He has a variety of interests, predominantly obesity and diabetes, but also sees patients with osteoporosis, thyroid disorders, men's health disorders, pituitary and adrenal disorders, polycystic ovaries, and disorders of growth. He is a leading member of several obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

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