Global Estimates for Prevalence of Diabetes Mellitus and Impaired Glucose Tolerance in Adults

  1. Who Ad Hoc Diabetes Reporting Group
  1. Diabetes and Other Noncommunicable Diseases Unit, World Health Organization Geneva, Switzerland Department of Preventive Medicine and Biometrics, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center Denver, Colorado
  1. Address Correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. Hilary King, Diabetes and Other Noncommunicable Diseases Unit, World Health Organization, 1211 Geneva 27, Switzeriand.


Objective— To assemble standardized estimates of abnormal glucose tolerance in adults in diverse communities worldwide and provide guidelines for the derivation of comparable estimates in future epidemiological studies.

Research Design and Methods— The project was limited to population-based investigations that had used current WHO criteria for diagnosis and classification of abnormal glucose tolerance. Raw data were obtained by WHO from surveys conducted during 1976–1991 of over 150,000 persons from 75 communities in 32 countries. Data within the truncated age range of 30–64 yr were adjusted to the standard world population of Segi. Age-specific prevalences also are reported for selected populations.

Results— Within the chosen age range, diabetes was absent or rare (<3%) in some traditional communities in developing countries. In European populations, age-standardized prevalence varied from 3 to 10%. Some Arab, migrant Asian Indian, Chinese, and Hispanic American populations were at higher risk with prevalences of 14–20%. The highest prevalences were found in the Nauruans (41%) and the Pima/Papago Indians (50%). Age-standardized prevalence of IGT was low (<3%) in some Chinese, traditional American Indian, and Pacific island populations. Moderate (3–10%) or high (11–20%) prevalences of IGT were observed in many populations worldwide. The highest estimates for prevalence of IGT were seen in female Muslim Asian Indians in Tanzania (32%) and in urban male Micronesians in Kiribati (28%). Prevalence of diabetes rose with age in all populations in which age-specific data were examined. This trend was most pronounced in those at moderate to high risk. The ratio of prevalence of diabetes in men versus women varied markedly between populations with little discernable trend, although IGT was generally more common in women. In most communities, at least 20% of diabetes cases were unknown before the survey, and in many communities, >50% were previously undiagnosed. In both Chinese and Indian migrant populations, relative prevalence was high when compared with indigenous communities.

Conclusions— Diabetes in adults is now a global health problem, and populations of developing countries, minority groups, and disadvantaged communities in industrialized countries now face the greatest risk.

  • Received May 1, 1991.
  • Accepted February 18, 1992.
| Table of Contents