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How diabetes is spreading in big cities

Staff writer ▼ | November 17, 2015
International research led by University College London (UCL) as part of the Cities Changing Diabetes partnership programme challenges current scientific understanding of the rapid rise of diabetes in cities.
Cities Changing Diabetes   International research led by University College London
The findings suggest that in cities around the world, social and cultural factors play a far more important role in the spread of the epidemic than previously thought.

More than two thirds of the world’s 400 million people with diabetes live in urban areas.1,2 The year-long study for Cities Changing Diabetes, a unique public-private-academic partnership, sought to better understand what makes people vulnerable to type 2 diabetes in cities in order to inform solutions for one of the most pressing modern-day public health challenges.

To explore this complex issue, more than 550 interviews were undertaken with at-risk and diagnosed people in five major cities – Copenhagen, Houston, Mexico City, Shanghai and Tianjin.

“By largely focusing on biomedical risk factors for diabetes, traditional research has not adequately accounted for the impact of social and cultural drivers of disease,” says David Napier, Professor of Medical Anthropology, UCL.

“Our pioneering research will enable cities worldwide to help populations adapt to lifestyles that make them less vulnerable to diabetes.”

The study found that diabetes vulnerability in cities is linked to a complex mix of social and cultural factors1– responsible for both putting people at greater initial risk and subsequently making them less likely to be diagnosed, receive treatment and maintain good health.

The identified social factors included financial, geographical, resource and time constraints while cultural determinants included the perception of body size and health and deep-seated traditions.

“The insights we have gained from the Cities Changing Diabetes research have fundamentally changed the way we think about diabetes in our city,” said Dr Armando Ahued Ortega, Minister of Health of Mexico City.

“This new understanding of sociocultural risk factors will guide the development of increasingly efficient and targeted public health policies to support the health and wellbeing of our citizens.”