Diabetes "massive challenge" as cases hit 366 million

By Ben Hirschler

LONDON (Reuters) - The number of people living with diabetes has soared to 366 million, and the disease kills one person every seven seconds, posing a "massive challenge" to healthcare systems worldwide, experts said on Tuesday.

The vast majority of those with the disease have Type 2 -- the kind linked to poor diet, obesity and lack of exercise -- and the problem is spreading as people in the developing world adopt more Western lifestyles.

Diabetics have inadequate blood sugar control, which can lead to serious complications like heart disease and stroke, damage to the kidneys or nerves, and to blindness. Worldwide deaths from the disease are now running at 4.6 million a year.

The latest figures, unveiled at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) congress in Lisbon, underline the need for urgent action by governments at a U.N. meeting next week, according to top doctors in the field.

The high-level United Nations meeting in New York on September 19-20 -- only the second to focus on disease after one on AIDS in 2001 -- will consider what should be done to counter the growing problem of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including diabetes.

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