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The study did have some limitations, sampling more women and city residents -- 152 urban districts compared to 112 rural villages. Yang said she was alarmed by the findings, and China's Ministry of Health has been alerted. She said there are plans to promote a national prevention strategy.
Diabetes occurs when the body is unable to regulate blood sugar. It is a major risk factor for heart disease, which remains the biggest killer in the world's most populous nation.
"I don't think it's unique to China, but it's certainly a concern that the rates are high," said Colin Bell, a chronic disease expert at WHO's regional office in Manila. "It emphasizes the need for strong prevention and treatment programs."
The Asia-Pacific, the world's most populous region, was highlighted in another study last year estimating that by 2025, it would be home to more than 60 percent of the 380 million diabetes cases globally.
And while the world's giants, China and India, already have the highest number of cases worldwide, the per capita rate is higher in several other countries -- up to 30 percent of all people living on the tiny Pacific Island of Nauru have the disease, according to estimates from the International Diabetes Federation.
The Chinese study sampled people from June 2007 to May 2008 across 14 cities and provinces. It revealed that men were slightly more affected and there were more diabetes cases in cities than in the countryside -- one in 11 city dwellers were diabetics, compared with one in eight in rural areas.
However, the number of people on the verge of developing diabetes was higher in rural areas.
The WHO estimates that diabetes, heart disease and stroke will cost China $558 billion between 2006-2015.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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