The World Health Organisation (WHO) says at least 420 million adults have diabetes.
In a report on the disease, the organisation said the number has been increasing steadily over the last three decades.
Diabetes is a chronic disease that occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces, which leads to an increased concentration of glucose in the blood.
According to WHO, as one of the leading causes of death globally, diabetes is a major public health problem, one of four priority non-communicable diseases targeted for action by world leaders.
WHO said the global prevalence of adult diabetes has nearly quadrupled since 1980.
“Around 1.6 million deaths can be directly attributed to diabetes each year,” the organisation said.
“Diabetes is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attack, stroke and lower limb amputation.
“The percentage of deaths attributable to high blood glucose or diabetes that occurs prior to age 70 is higher in low- and middle-income countries than in high-income countries.
“In 2012, diabetes took 1.5 million lives and higher-than-optimal levels of blood glucose took another 2.2 million.
“Of the 3.7 million people who died in that year, 43 percent occurred before the age of 70.”
Fadela Chaib, WHO spokesperson, said the prevalence of diabetes was largely due to changes in lifestyle.
“We are eating more heavy foods, full of fat and sugar; we are less physically active; and we have a more sedentary way of living,” he said.
Tedros Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO, said “An accurate diagnosis is the first step to getting effective treatment.
“Healthy diet, physical activity and avoiding tobacco use can prevent or delay its onset.
“Additionally, medication, regular screening and treatment for complications are also available.”
The organisation urged people to eat healthily, be physically active and avoid excessive weight gain.
It also called on government to “ensure that people are able to make healthy choices and that health systems are able to diagnose, treat and care for people with diabetes.”
In 2007, the UN General Assembly designated November 14 as World Diabetes Day to promote and improve human health, provide access to treatment and health-care education.