The prevalence of diabetes in China has increased substantially over recent decades, with more than 100 million people estimated to be affected by the disease presently. During this period there has been an increase in the rates of obesity and a reduction in physical activity. Many of the changes in lifestyle and diet are a result of increased economic development and urbanisation. In addition to an increasingly westernised diet, the traditional Chinese diet also plays a part, with the quantity and quality of rice intake linked to the risk of type 2 diabetes. Familial factors including inherited genetic variants are important, although differences in the genetic architecture suggest a different combination of genetic variants could be most relevant in Chinese when compared with Europeans. Recent advances have also emphasised the role of early life factors in the epidemic of diabetes and non-communicable diseases: maternal undernutrition, maternal obesity, and gestational diabetes are all linked to increased risk of diabetes in offspring. A mismatch between developmentally programmed biology and the modern environment is relevant for countries like China where there has been rapid economic transformation. Multisectoral efforts to address the risks will be needed at different stages throughout the lifecourse to reduce the burden of diabetes.
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