Development without any focus on health is the reason for the increasing burden of lifestyle diseases like diabetes, International Diabetes Federation President Jean Claude Mbanya said.
In an interview to IANS, Mbanya said developing countries like India were bearing a heavier burden of diabetes and other lifestyle diseases, and that radical steps were needed to deal with the situation.
"Earlier, it was thought that diabetes and other lifestyle diseases afflicted the rich, but that has been proven wrong. It is a disease of the poor now, as developing countries are bearing a higher burden of these diseases," Mbanya told IANS.
"Because of rampant poverty, people struggle to earn. That becomes the main concern, and people don't think of exercising," he said.
Mbanya, who comes from the west central African nation of Cameroon, said the underlying problem is that economic development models are not "health conscious".
"As we are developing (nations), we focus is on economic development. We have had economic development, but the problem is we have not had health-conscious economic development," said the IDF chief.
The International Diabetes Federation is an umbrella organisation of over 200 national diabetes associations in over 160 countries.
It represents the interests of the growing number of people with diabetes and those at risk, and has been leading the global diabetes community since 1950.
The IDF chief said India presently has around 61.3 million diabetes patients.
He, however, added that the figure did not represent the real numbers of those who lived with the condition, as nearly 60 percent of diabetes patients never get screened and are not diagnosed because of low awareness.
Mbanya also said that nearly 44 million more people are borderline diabetes cases, suffering from a condition that could be controlled with exercise and proper diet.
"There is a ray of hope. With correct lifestyle, we can fight diabetes. But a radical approach will be needed to motivate people towards healthy living," he said.
Southeast Asia, which comprises some of the most populous and developing countries of the world, houses one-fifth of world's total diabetic population.
The IDF chief said a multi-sectoral approach is needed to encourage healthy living.
"Health needs a multi-sectoral approach. It is not just the health ministry's role when it comes to what we eat. The agriculture and the food ministries are also involved. We can also address the lack of exercise by adding cycling lanes and playgrounds. For this, the town planning department needs to be involved. All these sectors need to come together," Mbanya told IANS.
"We need to teach our kids to exercise and for this we need bicycle lanes and footpaths in our cities. But we see no playgrounds. We keep them (children) closed in at home, to watch TV, sipping a fizzy drink," he added.
Mbanya also said that the government needs to take the lead in this direction.
"The government has to take the first step. In a country like India, the driving force has to come from the government," he said.
Current estimates by the IDF show that more than 300 million people have diabetes, representing 6 percent of the world's adult population.
An additional seven million people develop the disease each year.
By 2025, the federation estimates that 380 million people will have diabetes, with the greatest burden falling on low and middle-income countries.
It is causing premature death in both children and adults, and devastating complications including amputations, kidney and heart disease.
According to the 5th edition of Diabetes Atlas, an effort of the IDF, China has the largest number of people with 90 million people suffering from the lifestyle disease.
India follows with about 61.3 million, and the third on the list is far behind - United States at 23.7 million. The report was released last year.
Mbanya added that Pacific islands, Caribbean islands and Gulf countries are other areas with high diabetes burden.