Get access

Impact of poverty on the prevalence of diabetes and its complications in urban southern India


: Dr A. Ramachandran MD, PhD, FRCP, Director, Diabetes Research Centre & M. V. Hospital for Diabetes, Royapuram, Chennai 600 013, India. E-mail:


Aim The impact of poverty on the profile of diabetes and its complications was studied.

Methods A comparative study of low income group (LIG) (family income Rs. < 30 000/annum (approx. £432) and high income group (HIG) (family income Rs. ≥ 60 000/annum (approx. £864) subjects of ≥ 40 years was done in Madras, India. By screening 1748 LIG subjects (M/W 844/904) 301 diabetic subjects were identified and 218 underwent tests for diabetic complications. Population data available in 635 (M/W 309/326) HIG subjects from the survey were used for comparison of glucose tolerance profile. Complications were studied in 221 diabetic HIG subjects.

Results Age-standardized prevalences of diabetes (12.6% vs. 25.5%; χ2 = 56.9, P < 0.0001) and impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) (8.9% vs. 19.0%) were significantly lower (χ2 = 57.7; P < 0.0001) in the LIG. Hypertension was more common in LIG (53.7% vs. 40.0% in HIG; χ2 = 34.9; P < 0.0001). LIG subjects were more physically active; 73.8% did not go to school. Parameters significantly associated with diabetes were body mass index (BMI), age, higher income, waist–hip ratio and physical inactivity. Higher income, BMI and age were associated with IGT. Diabetic LIG subjects had a higher prevalence of cardiac disease, neuropathy and cataract and a lower prevalence of retinopathy than HIG subjects. The risk variables such as hyperglycaemia, dyslipidaemia, hypertension, smoking and alcohol consumption were more in the LIG group.

Conclusions The urban poor in the developing world has a lower prevalence of diabetes than the urban poor in developed societies. However, they have higher rates of complications of diabetes.