In the following guest piece, Kay Gore explores the impact of diabetes on Australian society, the underlying causes of the condition, preventable health changes that can be made and more.
Around 280 Australians develop diabetes every day, reports Diabetes Australia, and currently, a total of 1.7 million have this condition.
Diabetes has a host of complications that can affect one’s health and wellbeing and potentially shorten lifespans. For instance, it is the leading cause of preventable blindness.
Moreover, over 27,6000 admissions for diabetes-related foot ulcers and thousands of amputations take place because of complications.
What are the risk factors and potential complications of diabetes, and what can be done to prevent and treat this disease?
WHY ARE RATES RISING IN AUSTRALIA?
Rising diabetes rates are a problem not only in Australia, but also across the globe, owing in no small part to ever-higher obesity rates.
The World Health Organisation reports that obesity has reached epidemic proportions globally, with around 2.8 million people dying every year as a result of being overweight or obese.
The causes of obesity include the consumption of diets which are high in refined sugars and processed foods, and low in healthy high-fibre foods.
The sedentary lifestyle is also to blame. A report by Cancer Australia shows that around 30% of the adult population takes part in over five hours of sedentary leisure activity per day.
Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines recommend that adults complete between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate-to-intense physical activity (or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous physical activity) every week.
A World Health Organisation study has found, however, that Australia ranks 97th in the world when it comes to getting enough exercise, with almost a third not engaging in as much physical activity as they need to.
RISK FACTORS FOR DIABETES
The risk factors for Type 2 diabetes include having a family history of the condition, being over 55 years of age, and being over 45 and having high blood pressure or being overweight.
People with Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island backgrounds have four times the likelihood of developing this condition, owing both to a genetic predisposition and (in some cases) an unhealthy lifestyle.
Diabetes also begins at an earlier age in indigenous people than in other Australian populations, so the risk of developing complications also starts at a younger age.
There is no evidence to suggest indigenous people had diabetes when they lead traditional lifestyles; research shows that their metabolism has been centred on making them excellent hunter-gatherers.
Today, indigenous people are exposed to high-sugar, processed foods and to habits such as smoking and the consumption of alcohol.
COMPLICATIONS OF DIABETES
One of the biggest problems with diabetes is the many complications it can bring.
These have a high personal and public cost, with the total annual cost impact of this condition in Australia estimated to be approximately $14.6 billion.
Some of the most threatening complications include blindness, heart disease, kidney disease, and amputations.
Diabetics require care to prevent conditions such as diabetic foot, since diabetic neuropathy (a type of nerve damage) affects nearly 50% of adults with diabetes during their lifetime.
Preventive care includes wearing special socks that are gentle on skin and boost circulation. However, diabetic neuropathy affects various systems and parts of the body – including the legs, urinary tract, sex organs, hips, head and torso, depending on the type of neuropathy experienced.
Preventing diabetes or lowering the rate of Type 2 diabetes is a matter that governments, international partners, non-governmental organisations, the private sector, and society all need to share responsibility for.
The Australian government has committed to a series of global goals for reducing the burden of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes through information and education, encouraging Australians to improve their lifestyles.
More can be done to achieve this aim, suggest J Kaldor and colleagues in an article published in The Medical Journal of Australia.
Measures suggested include limiting children’s access to junk food advertising, strengthening structures for food reformulation, and taxing sugar-sweetened carbonated beverages.
Recent studies have shown that a 20% tax on these beverages would result in an average 12.6% daily decline in their consumption and a reduction in obesity of 2.7% in men and 1.2% in women.
They also show that this simple act could reduce the number of Type 2 diabetes cases by 16,000 over a 25-year period. Individuals should also be responsible for the consumption of healthy diets and for embracing a physically active lifestyle.
Diabetes is proving to be a major health threat in Australia, as it is in many other parts of the world. Factors such as obesity, poor diets, and lack of exercise are all to blame, though genetic factors can also be at play.
Because diabetes can have so many complications, prevention is truly better than cure in this case.
Governments, private enterprise, educational systems, and individuals all need to do their share if this upward trend is to be reversed.
View more published content from Kay here.
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