A diabetes epidemic is brewing in Mexico, a study published in the journal Preventive Medicine cautions. With rates of obesity climbing due to poor diet and lack of exercise, the study predicts that 23% of the country may have this disease by 2050. 

Diabetes has had a global impact on public health. The disease has affected anywhere from 285 million to 347 million people worldwide, and it is expected that diabetes will emerge in another 15 years as the seventh-leading cause of mortality. 

“Mexico is at the forefront of the diabetes epidemic,” the article stated. Management of the disease in this country has been very poor. Less than 6% of all diabetes patients have their condition under proper control—with 56% failing to adequately manage the disease. 

Rafael Meza, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, teamed up with researchers from the Mexico National Institute of Public Health to analyze how diabetes might progress over the next 35 years. 

The researchers drew from Mexico National Health and Nutrition Survey data to estimate how diabetes would progress from 2015 to 2050, analyzing national incidence trends under several scenarios. What they found is that incidence of diagnosed diabetes cases doubled just about every decade from 1960 to 2012. 

The three age-specific incidence scenarios they used “suggest diabetes prevalence among adults (ages 20+) may reach 13.7–22.5% by 2050, affecting 15–25 million individuals, with a lifetime risk of 1 in 3 to 1 in 2,” according to the study results. 

The researchers determined that diabetes risk was higher for younger people in the Mexican population—with those born in the 1960s 5 to 6 times more likely to be diagnosed with the disease than those born 30 years earlier. “This is likely the consequence of the large nutritional and physical activity changes experienced by the Mexican population over the last decades,” the authors stated. 

“The work highlights the magnitude of the problem and how much bigger it could get if nothing is done," Meza said in a statement. “Diabetes rates have been increasing dramatically largely due to the obesity epidemic in Mexico. Comprehensive diabetes/obesity prevention strategies are thus critical to reverse the trends.”

Obesity is a major contributor to diabetes and right now, more than 70% of the Mexican population is overweight. “This is important since as new prevention policies are implemented, like a national obesity and diabetes prevention strategy or the recent taxes on sugary drinks, it will be important to measure the effects of such interventions relative to a no-intervention scenario,” said study co-author Tonatiuh Barrientos-Gutierrez, MD, of the Mexico National Institute of Public Health and a former scientist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

Meza believes the study’s findings could translate over to Hispanic populations in the United States that have diabetes.  “We know people from Mexico have high susceptibility rates, so some of those things that we're learning could be eventually be applied to understanding what's happening with diabetes among the Hispanic population in the U.S.”