A health lobby group says the Government needs to make diabetes prevention a priority after an international study ranked New Zealand as having one of the highest rates among developed countries.
The study published in The Lancet was carried out by an international team of researchers working with The World Health Organization. Of the more wealthy countries, New Zealand was among five nations where blood glucose levels - indicating diabetes - were highest.
Diabetes New Zealand president Chris Baty says she's not surprised by the news as this country also has one of the highest obesity rates.
She says very little is being done in the area of prevention, such as encouraging physical education and teaching nutritional information in schools.
University of Otago professor of nutrition and medicine Jim Mann says New Zealand has no concerted public health programme to tackle the obesity epidemic.
"Unless we do something about the obesity epidemic we're not going to do anything about the diabetes epidemic," he said.
The most common type of diabetes, Type 2, is strongly associated with obesity and a sedentary lifestyle.
Professor Mann says the latest figures on diabetes prevalence in New Zealand will be released in the national nutrition survey later this year.
Pacific nations have highest rates
The study found that diabetes has taken off most dramatically in Pacific Island nations, which now have the highest diabetes levels in the world. In the Marshall Islands, a third of all women and a quarter of all men have diabetes.
Among wealthy countries, the rise in diabetes was highest in North America and relatively small in Western Europe. Diabetes and blood glucose levels were highest in the United States, Greenland, Malta, New Zealand and Spain, and lowest in the Netherlands, Austria and France.
The region with the lowest glucose levels was sub-Saharan Africa, followed by east and southeast Asia.
Global diabetes numbers surge
Rates of diabetes have either risen or at best remained the same in virtually all parts of the world in the past 30 years, the study said.
The number of adults with diabetes worldwide has more than doubled since 1980 to 347 million, a far larger number than previously thought. Previous projections had put the number at 285 million worldwide.
The researchers said 70% percent of the rise was due to population growth and aging, with the other 30% due to higher prevalence.
Of the 347 million people with diabetes, 138 million live in China and India and another 36 million in the United States and Russia.