The World Council of Churches has called on churches and related organisations to help promote healthy dietary habits and physical activity to help people avoid excessive weight gain.

The call was made last week as the World Health Organization released its first global report on diabetes which showed that the number of adults living with diabetes has quadrupled to 422 millon - or 8.5 per cent of the global population - since 1980. Diabetes caused 1.5 million deaths in 2012 alone with obesity, which is increasing dramatically around the globe, the biggest factor behind its increasing incidence.

Professor Isabel Phiri, associate general secretary of the World Council of Churches, called for faith communities to provide "supportive environments in shaping people's choices of foods by limiting fats and sugars and increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables as well as legumes, whole grains and nuts".

"Let us also encourage regular physical activity as part of our daily routine," she said. "The body is a temple of God. Let us take care of our bodies. Let us, as people of faith, help each other that we can become a fit and faithful community."

Dr Manoj Kurian, coordinator of the WCC-Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (WCC-EAA), noted that diet was often not a choice, with the food system being rigged against the poor.

"In a world where hundreds of millions go undernourished while half a billion suffer from obesity, corporate-based approaches have led to an artificial separation of nutrition and sustainable food systems, resulting in silos of technical and product-based solutions that ignore social, economic, political, environmental, health and cultural determinants."

And Rev Nyambura Njoroge, who guides the WCC's health and healing work, said it was "unacceptable" that only 23 per cent of low income countries have insulin available for people who need it.

"Diabetes is becoming more common, even in the poorest nations. Faith-based health providers need to work collaboratively with governments and international organisations to increase awareness, capacity and resources available for early detection and treatment of diabetes."