The number of adults with diabetes has increased four times worldwide in less than four decades.
A World Health Organisation (WHO) study puts the number at 422 million, and says diabetes is fast becoming a major problem in poorer countries such as India, who saw a high growth in diabetes patient numbers.
Researchers point to an ageing population and rising levels of obesity for what the WHO says is becoming a defining issue for global public health.
The study was published in the The Lancet journal ahead of the United Nations World Health Day today.
It used data from 4.4 million adults, making it one of the largest studies to date.
It found that between 1980 and 2014, diabetes has become more common among men than women, and that rates of diabetes rose significantly in low and middle income countries including China, Indonesia, Pakistan, Egypt and Mexico.
"Even in the poorest settlings, governments must ensure that people are able to make these healthy choices and that health systems are able to diagnose and treat people with diabetes," WHO director general Margaret Chan says.