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Maintaining Optimal Body Mass Index Key to Preventing Diabetes-Related Deaths in Asia-Pacific Region: New Study

Media release: 
14/11/2011

A new study into the burden of Type II diabetes-related mortality in the Asia-Pacific region shows between 9 and 98 per cent of diabetes deaths could be prevented by tackling higher-than-optimal body mass index (BMI).

Speaking on World Diabetes Day, lead author, Senior Research Fellow with The George Institute for Global Health and Associate Professor, University of Toronto, Dr Alexandra Martiniuk, said she expected these findings to appeal to health, economic and development-sector decision-makers.

“According to the latest estimates from the World Health Organisation, 346 million people worldwide have diabetes. More than 80 per cent of diabetes deaths occur in low and middle-income countries,” Dr Martiniuk said.

“Type II Diabetes is a growing burden on the health and socio-economic strength of the region, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

“The region continues to undergo rapid change, with industrialisation and urbanisation directly impacting people’s health, as evidenced by developments including the rise in the burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including diabetes.

“Preventing millions of deaths from Type II Diabetes will have enormous positive social and economic impacts across the region, well into the future,” Dr Martiniuk said.

The paper, Higher-than-optimal body mass index and diabetes mortality in the Asia Pacific region,uses data drawn from more than 330,000 people in 15 Asia-Pacific countries. This research estimates the percentage of deaths from Type II Diabetes that are attributable to being above the ideal, healthy, weight. The research provides these data by country, age and sex for countries in the Asia-Pacific Region.

Key findings

  • India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and Thailand have the lowest burdens of diabetes deaths attributable to overweight and obesity
  • By comparison, the highest burdens were observed for American Samoa, Nauru, Tokelau, Kiribati, and New Zealand
  • In general, Asian countries (such as Indonesia and India) reported the lowest mean BMIs whereas Pacific Island countries (such as American Samoa and Tokelau) reported the highest mean BMIs
  • In Australian males, 58 per cent of diabetes deaths are likely attributable to non-ideal body weight - equivalent to Malaysia
  • In Australian females, 67 per cent of diabetes deaths are likely attributable to non-ideal body weight - slightly worse than China but better than Malaysia
  • Hazard ratios, which are used to measure the risk of death from Diabetes associated with non-optimal body mass index (BMI) - were taken from the largest-ever study of chronic disease in the Asia-Pacific - the 600,000-participant Asia Pacific Cohort Studies Collaboration (APCSC), established by The George Institute in 1999 - making results more precise, and available by sex and country.

“This study, which uses population attributable fractions,  provides tools to forecast emerging and growing health issues across populations, and it is expected these data will be used by multilateral organisations such as the WHO, national-level policy makers, public health agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs),” Dr Martiniuk said.

“The time for concerted national, local and individual action is now. There are effective strategies to prevent, diagnose, treat and prevent deaths due to Type II diabetes. We must implement them.”

Editor’s notes: The APCSC is a collaborative project that seeks to pool data from existing longitudinal studies with information on NCDs in the region. The primary goal is to provide direct, reliable evidence about the determinants of diabetes, stroke, coronary heart disease, and other common causes of death in Asia-Pacific populations by producing region, age and sex specific estimates of major risk factors and make this data available to key cross-national decision-makers in reducing the burden of disease. The collaboration covers more than 650,000 participants from 44 separate cohort studies in mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, New Zealand and Australia. It is considered the largest epidemiological collaboration in the southern hemisphere and is in the top 5 of the world’s largest medical studies.

Higher-than-optimal body mass index and diabetes mortality in the Asia Pacific region” by:

  • Alexandra LC Martiniuk, PhD , The George Institute for Global Health
  • Crystal MY Lee, PhD,The Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Canada
  • Stephen Colagiuri, MBBS, The Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise & Eating Disorders, University of Sydney, Australia
  • Mark Woodward, PhD, The George Institute for Global Health

Will be published in an upcoming volume of Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice(Elsevier Science). Online copies are available for purchase here