urban woman

People in urban areas are exposed to a host of specific urban diabetes risk factors, according to new research.

The study, conducted at University College London (UCL) in association with the Cities Changing Diabetes program (CCD), found that social and economic factors could be as important as traditional risk factors such as unhealthy diet and lack of exercise. According to the researchers, traditional ways of understanding the development of diabetes are limited.

“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,” said David Napier, professor of Medical Anthropology at CCD programme partner University College London. “Our pioneering research will enable cities worldwide to help populations adapt to lifestyles that make them less vulnerable to diabetes.”

Cities Changing Diabetes is a global initiative that seeks to raise awareness for the unique problem of urban diabetes. Both types of diabetes – type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes – are more common in urban areas, with 65 per cent of people with diabetes living in cities.

Five large cities – Copenhagen, Houston, Mexico City, Shanghai and Tianjin – have signed up to program. Through a combination of awareness-raising initiatives and research funding, the cities will attempt to identify the specifically urban problems that increase the risk of diabetes, and find solutions to these problems. The CCD website describes the initiative as being “built on public-private partnerships between businesses, city leaders and planners, architects, healthcare professionals, academics, community leaders and others with a stake in the outcome.

So far, the initiative has been successful. In Mexico, local governments have successfully identified urban issues that could increase the risk of diabetes.

“The insight we have gained from the Cities Changing Diabetes research have fundamentally changed the way we think about diabetes in our city,” said Dr. Armando Ahued Ortega, minister of health in Mexico City. “This new understanding of sociocultural risk factors will guide the development of increasingly efficient and targeted public health policies to support the health and wellbeing of our citizens.”

550 participants took part in face-to-face interviews. The researchers used the responses to the interview questions to identify urban risk factors for diabetes.

Pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk have offered financial support to the continued CCD initiative, with an investment of $20m by 2020.

“We have a longstanding commitment to provide more than just pharmaceuticals to the fight against diabetes,” said CEO Lars Rebien Sorensen.

“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.”