Nguyen Thanh Long, vice minister of health, said at a meeting on April 9 that diabetes patients in Vietnam almost doubled in the past decade to 5.4% of the population, or more than four million patients.
Figures from the ministry showed that Vietnam is among ten countries with the highest rates of diabetes patients in Asia while its patient growth is in the world’s top ten.
The disease is surprisingly more common in rural than city areas. Mekong Delta has the most patients, followed by the central region, the Red River Delta including Hanoi and the eastern region including Ho Chi Minh City.
Phan Huong Duong, deputy director of the National Hospital of Endocrinology in Hanoi, said the patients are also getting younger.
People used to start having type 2 diabetes around the age of 40 but many patients diagnosed in Hanoi were as young as 10, Duong said at the meeting.
Health experts blame the situation on unhealthy diets that involve a large intake of sugar and include a large amount of fast food and soft drinks.
A 2015 survey by the National Institute of Nutrition found Vietnamese people consume too much starch and sugar.
The amount of starch consumed daily in Vietnam has doubled in the past decade to 33 grams per person while each only has 200 grams of vegetables on average a day, half the quantity advised by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Experts also blamed parents for letting children drink too much of sugary drinks and sweetened milk. Each can of soft drinks has 36-63 grams of sugar, while an adult should not consume more than 20 grams of sugar a day, they said.
Daily oil and fat consumption in Vietnam has also increased more than threefold in 25 years to 38 grams a person in 2010.
Lack of physical activities is also a major risk factor of diabetes, they said.
Diabetes comes with severe complications such as coma due to high blood sugar, blindness, stroke, kidney decline, tuberculosis and blood contamination.
Patients also have higher risk of foot or leg amputation as poor blood flow to the feet and nerve damage make it easy for the parts to develop ulcers and infections.
The number of patients worldwide has quadrupled since 1980 to 422 million in 2014, according to WHO.
A new report from the organization showed that the disease is growing most rapidly in low- and middle-income countries, with Southeast Asia among the most affected regions.
WHO has predicted that diabetes will become the 7th leading cause of death in the world by 2030, when the average global rate will increase another 50 percent.
Following the report, there has been a lot of chatter around the world about a tax on sugar. The UK's government has already approved such a levy, despite strong protests from soft drinks manufacturers.
A few years ago Vietnam considered a tax on carbonated beverages. But the rationale behind the plan was to prevent health problems caused by carbon dioxide, not by sugar. Nothing happened eventually after discussions fizzled out just as quick as they came.