Study prompts rethink on the rise of diabetes in cities

Posted: 16 November 2015 |

New research shows socio-cultural factors including time pressure, commuting time and where you live play significant roles in diabetes vulnerability…

New research led by University College London (UCL)  for the Cities Changing Diabetes partnership shows socio-cultural factors including time pressure, commuting time and where you live play significant roles in diabetes vulnerability.


More than two thirds of the world’s 400 million people with diabetes live in urban areas. The year-long study for Cities Changing Diabetes 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 factors – 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.

Novo Nordisk pledges $20 million

Prompted by the findings, Novo Nordisk has pledged to support the fight against urban diabetes via the investment of $20 million of expert resource and research funds by 2020.

Commenting on the promise, Lars Rebien Sørensen, president and chief executive, Novo Nordisk, said, “We have a longstanding commitment to provide more than just pharmaceuticals to the fight against diabetes. Research of this nature illustrates precisely why we initiated Cities Changing Diabetes – to fundamentally change the trajectory of the disease through targeted actions informed by new understanding.”

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