Prevalence of diabetic retinopathy in various ethnic groups: a worldwide perspective

Surv Ophthalmol. 2012 Jul-Aug;57(4):347-70. doi: 10.1016/j.survophthal.2012.01.004. Epub 2012 Apr 28.


The alarming rise in diabetes prevalence is a global public health and economic problem. Diabetic retinopathy is the most common complication of diabetes and the leading cause of blindness among working-age populations in the Western world. Screening and prompt treatment of diabetic retinopathy are not top priorities in many regions of the world, because the impacts of other causes of preventable blindness remain an issue. Ethnicity is a complex, independent risk factor for diabetic retinopathy. Observations from white populations cannot be extrapolated fully to other ethnic groups. The prevalence of diabetic retinopathy, sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy, and clinically significant macular edema are higher in people of South Asian, African, Latin American, and indigenous tribal descent compared to the white population. Although all ethnic groups are susceptible to the established risk factors of diabetic retinopathy-such as length of exposure and severity of hyperglycemia, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia-ethnic-specific risk factors also may influence these rates. Such risk factors may include differential susceptibility to conventional risk factors, insulin resistance, differences in anthropometric measurements, truncal obesity, urbanization, variations in access to healthcare systems, genetic susceptibility, and epigenetics. The rates of nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy appear to be declining in the United States, supporting the observation that better medical management of diabetes and prompt treatment of sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy substantially improve the long-term diabetic retinopathy incidence; studies from other parts of the world are limited and do not mirror this finding, however. We examine the ethnicity and region-based prevalence of diabetic retinopathy around the world and highlight the need to reinforce ethnicity-based screening and treatment thresholds in diabetic retinopathy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diabetic Retinopathy / ethnology*
  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data*
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors