India is facing significantly higher rates of diabetes and high blood pressure, according to the first nationally representative study of these "major killers" involving more than 1.3 million people.
The rates of diabetes and hypertension are high among middle-aged and elderly people across all geographic measures and sociodemographic groups in India, researchers found.
The study, led by researchers at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, also found unexpectedly high rates of hypertension among young adults.
"Understanding how diabetes and hypertension prevalence varies within a country as large as India is essential for targeting of prevention, screening, and treatment services," said Pascal Geldsetzer, lead author of the study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
India, home to more than a sixth of the world's population, is in the midst of a rapid epidemiological transition, researchers said.
Rates of noncommunicable diseases have risen in recent decades and are likely to continue as India's population ages and urbanises, they said.
Meanwhile, many areas of India still face substantial burdens of infectious diseases and poor maternal and child health.
The researchers wanted to find out how the prevalence of diabetes and hypertension in India varied by state, rural vs urban location, and by sociodemographic characteristics such as education and household wealth.
They used health data collected from 1,320,555 adults across India between 2012 and 2014, which included plasma glucose and blood pressure measurements.
The findings showed that diabetes and hypertension were prevalent across all geographies and sociodemographic groups.
The overall prevalence of diabetes was 6.1 percent among women and 6.5 percent among men; for hypertension, 20.0 percent among women and 24.5 percent among men.
Household wealth and urban location were positively associated with both conditions, and the prevalence of diabetes and hypertension among middle-aged adults in the poorest households in rural areas was also high (5.9 percent had diabetes and 30 percent had hypertension).
Hypertension was higher among adults under 45 than previously estimated and was higher than in Central and Eastern Europe, the region previously estimated to have the highest rates for young adults, researchers found.
"India has a window of opportunity to invest in its health system to effectively tackle hypertension and diabetes - both major killers," said Rifat Atun, a professor at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
"The potential for harnessing new technologies to reach the millions affected by these diseases and reverse the course of these epidemics is real.
"However, because the epidemics are worsening rapidly, now is the time for urgent action," said Atun.
Ashish Awasthi, faculty at the Indian Institute of Public Health in Gujarat said, "diagnosis of hypertension and diabetes is straightforward but mostly untapped due lack of awareness and regular medical checkups."
"India needs to focus on these two silent killers as well as other non-communicable diseases to reduce the burden of preventable premature morbidity and mortality. If unchecked, we will see a lot more victims of these two diseases in next two decades," he said.