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Novo Nordisk, University Partner on Diabetes in Big Cities

Diabetes Test (NIH)

(National Institutes of Health)

28 March 2014. The pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, based in Denmark, and University College London in the U.K. are studying the scope of diabetes in big cities to develop a strategy for attacking the problem, while accounting for the special needs of urban centers. The Cities Changing Diabetes project, which includes Steno Diabetes Center, a diabetes care facility owned by Novo Nordisk, is starting in Mexico City, one of the world’s largest cities.

The partners cite data from the International Diabetes Federation that show two of three people with diabetes today live in cities, with individuals moving to cities more likely to get the disease than those living in rural areas. The combination of rising wealth, increasing consumption, unequal access to health care, and sedentary lifestyles are believed to contribute to the problem for city dwellers. And by the year 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population is expected to live in cities, according to data compiled by the UN in 2011.

The first part of the Cities Changing Diabetes project aims to better understand the scope of diabetes in cities. UCL medical anthropologist David Napier will lead a team working with Steno Diabetes Center, to map the epidemiology of diabetes in urban centers. This first stage, say the partners, will include gauging the interactions of the disease with economic and environmental factors. Among Napier’s research specialties are vulnerability of communities and primary health care delivery.

Once the scope of the problem is better defined, the partners plan to engage health authorities, policy-makers, and the private sector to develop action plans for individual cities. Mexico City, with a population of 20 million, is the first city to take part in the project, but other North American and Asian cities are expected to participate.

Minister of Health of Mexico City, Armando Ahued Ortega, says in a joint statement that early detection of diabetes and care are one of his administration’s public health priorities. “We have implemented large-scale initiatives to fight overweight, obesity and diabetes and we are starting to see the results, says Ahued Ortega.  “However, diabetes continues to constitute a heavy burden for the city’s health services.”

Novo Nordisk’s main corporate focus is diabetes. “While there are many factors fuelling the growth trajectory of diabetes, the most striking contributor is urbanization and the growth of cities,” says company CEO Lars Rebien Sørensen. “The global diabetes epidemic is an emergency in slow motion.”

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