The diabetes epidemic

The statistics are staggering, but experts believe diabetes is an even bigger problem than we realise, with many cases undiagnosed.

A recent study by Diabetes Australia found three out of four people don’t know how common diabetes is and 60 per cent of those surveyed don’t understand the associated complications. Managing diabetes is important to prevent serious complications including vision loss, limb amputation, heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.  

The statistics

A new study shows that globally 415 million people have diabetes, a figure that’s predicted to rise to 642 million by 2040.

Every day, 280 Aussies develop the condition – that’s one person every 5 minutes.

At least 1.2 million people nationally live with diabetes. It’s estimated more than 500,000 people have undiagnosed type 2 diabetes – making it the fastest growing long-term health condition in the country.
  
More than 1.5 million Australians have pre-diabetes, which is when your blood sugar level is high but not at a level high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes
 
Bupa’s National Medical Director Dr Rob Grenfell is part of the National Diabetes Strategy Advisory Group, which has provided an action plan to the government on how to tackle the diabetes epidemic. 

“The figures that have been released talk about the increasing number of Australians that are at risk of developing diabetes. The fact that 60 per cent of Australians are overweight or obese is one of the main reasons why the risk has increased,” says Dr Grenfell.

Types of diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune condition, it's not caused by lifestyle factors and is usually diagnosed in childhood. In type 1 diabetes the body’s immune system attacks the cells which produce insulin in the pancreas. One in 10 people with diabetes has type 1 diabetes.

The symptoms of type 1 diabetes often start suddenly, and can include feeling excessively thirsty and needing to urinate frequently, unexplained weight loss, blurred vision, tiredness and weakness.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and affects the way your body metabolises glucose (a type of sugar). It's a progressive condition if left unmanaged, but more than half of cases can be prevented by modifiable lifestyle factors including diet and physical activity.

People with type 2 diabetes often show no warning signs at all. This can result in a person living with diabetes for some time before it's diagnosed.

Gestational diabetes happens when a woman who doesn’t have diabetes experiences high levels of blood glucose during pregnancy. Blood glucose levels need to be carefully monitored during pregnancy and after birth to avoid complications.

While it usually disappears after giving birth, women who have had gestational diabetes are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes after pregnancy, and the baby also has an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and possibly obesity later in life.
Diabetes pinprick test on finger

Diabetes complications

The potential complications are the same for type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
 
All areas of your body can be affected from your eyes to your limbs.

Dr Grenfell says those with diabetes are up to for four times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke.

“It is also one of the leading causes of vision loss, and if blood glucose levels are too high over a long period of time, it can lead to limb amputations and also kidney failure,” says Dr Grenfell.

Despite the known risk of developing these complications, Diabetes Australia CEO Greg Johnson says over 60 per cent of people don’t link diabetes to its major complications.

"Most people still underestimate the vast number of people developing diabetes, and the serious health complications of diabetes if it’s not diagnosed and managed,” Prof Johnson says.

Living with diabetes

Neither type 1 or type 2 diabetes can be cured currently, but they can be managed to minimise the risk of complications.

Dr Grenfell says those with existing diabetes need to have a strong relationship with their GP.

“That means seeing them on a regular basis, generally about four times a year, developing a management plan which includes healthy eating and physical activity, using any medications you may need as prescribed, getting necessary checks and tests to see how your disease is being managed, and keeping an eye out for any complications,” he says. 

Dr Grenfell says it’s possible many people with type 2 diabetes won’t need medication if they manage their weight, eat a healthy balanced diet and do regular physical activity.

Preventing type 2 diabetes

Almost 60 per cent of cases of type 2 diabetes can be prevented by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

“It seems very simplistic but we actually need to eat less and move more,” says Dr Grenfell.

Dr Grenfell says a brisk walk for at least 30 minutes or more each day can help reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. He also recommends muscle strength training on at least 2 days each week.

“Formal strength training and regular physical activity, together with a healthy balanced diet, can be beneficial in preventing weight problems, which in turns lowers the chances of diabetes progressing. It can also help prevent diabetes developing in everyone, including those at high risk,” he says.
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