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Photograph: Photo by Victor, used under CC BY

The global number of diabetes cases has soared over the past decades, but poorer countries, where the disease is growing the fastest, are still ill-prepared for the lifestyle epidemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday.

Some 422 million people lived with diabetes in 2014, compared to 108 million in 1980, the UN health agency reported one day before World Health Day, which is focused on fighting diabetes this year.

This trend reflects an increase in risk factors, including being overweight or obese, WHO said in its first global report on this health problem.

"In the past decade, growth in the prevalence of diabetes has been fastest in low and middle-income countries, where the cost of care can easily drive families below the poverty line," WHO Director General Margaret Chan said.

Eighty per cent of the 1.5 million people who died from diabetes in 2012 lived in poor or middle-income countries.

However, adequate diagnosis tools and diabetes management is generally available in only one-third of these countries, according to WHO.

In addition, the price has been rising for the sugar regulation hormone insulin that is used to manage diabetes.

Diabetes occurs when the pancreas gland in the stomach does not produce enough insulin, or when the body cannot properly use the insulin it produces.

This results in elevated blood sugar levels, which can lead to blindness, kidney failure or to the amputation of lower limbs.

Controlling one's weight by eating a healthy diet and by getting enough exercise are simple but effective ways to prevent the illness, according to WHO.

"Even in the poorest settings, governments must ensure that people are able to make these healthy choices and that health systems are able to diagnose and treat people with diabetes," Chan said.

Governments should also consider taxing sugary drinks and unhealthy foods, or lowering taxes on healthier foods, WHO said. The UN agency also recommended promoting breastfeeding and regulating food marketing for children.

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