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A simple method for determining a person's risk of developing type 2 diabetes from non-invasive measurements could help poorer countries screen for the disease, according to researchers in Australia and Vietnam.

The tool was developed in Vietnam and could be used across South-East Asia, and also in other regions if adjusted for local populations, said Tuan Nguyen, one of the authors of the research, based at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Australia.

Prevalence of type 2, or adult-onset, diabetes is increasing all over the world, with most of the predicted rise expected to occur in developing countries, driven by increasingly Westernised diets and lifestyles, according to experts.

Researchers tested more than 2,000 previously undiagnosed people aged between 30 and 72 years in Ho Chi Minh City for diabetes, and collected data on 11 potential risk factors for the disease. They found that 11 per cent of men and 12 per cent of women had the disease.

A combination of systolic blood pressure and the ratio between waist and hip circumference was found to be the best predictor of risk.

Waist circumference is an indicator of the amount of fat in the abdomen, which is closely linked to the chances of developing type 2 diabetes.

The method simply involves plotting systolic blood pressure and waist to hip ratio on a pre-prepared template to give a percentage risk, said Nguyen.

A doctor would need only a blood pressure monitor and a tape measure to apply the technique. If a patient was shown to have a high risk of diabetes, they could then be sent for a more expensive blood test.

"This kind of selective screening can save developing countries a lot of money because there is no need to screen a whole population [with expensive blood tests] — which they wouldn't have the resources to do," Nguyen told SciDev.Net.

The accuracy of the method depends on the background prevalence of type 2 diabetes in a population so different populations might need their own specific diagram. But because prevalence is similar across much of South-East Asia, Nguyen is confident this method could be used in other countries. It would have to be recalculated before being used other countries, he said.

Paul Zimmet, director of the International Diabetes Institute, in Caulfield, Australia, and a diabetes researcher at Australia-based Monash University, said that although coupling the waist circumference with blood pressure provides a better index of risk, it doesn't diagnose the condition.

The researchers are now working on validating the method in other countries. Nguyen hopes that by next year they will have created a website where people could plug their own data to calculate their risk.

The research was published earlier this month (2 July) in Diabetologia.

Link to abstract in Diabetologia

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