Why do France's overseas territories have a diabetes problem?


A study by the national public health institute reveals alarming rates of type 2 diabetes among residents of France's overseas territories, where the chronic illness is two times as common as it is on the French mainland. What explains the disparity?

According to research published this week by Santé Publique France, the share of adults with diabetes on the Indian Ocean island of Réunion was 13.6 percent in 2021 – while in mainland France, the rate was last estimated at 5.7 percent in 2016.

The public health institute also found a high incidence of the disease on the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe (12 percent) and Martinique (11.5 percent), as well as in French Guiana (11.6 percent), on the northern coast of South America.

Each of those rates is above the global average, which according to the International Diabetes Federation stood at 10.5 percent in 2021.

Most new cases of diabetes are type 2, which typically appears in adulthood and is associated with both family history and lifestyle factors: high body weight, lack of exercise and high cholesterol.

Sugar problem

Marie-Hélène Chopinet, president of AFD974, an association for diabetes patients in Réunion and part of the French Diabetics Federation, blames much of the problem on diet.

"Food products here are more sugary than on the mainland," she told RFI. "That's supposedly because people in Réunion are addicted to sugar."

Delays in getting treatment might explain some of this disparity.

Read more on RFI English

Read also:
French island Mayotte survives on bottled water in century's worst drought
France pledges to tackle monopolies inflating prices in overseas territories
France steps up monitoring of diabetes drug used for weight loss