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We all have a part to play in the fight against diabetes


Professor Nam H. Cho

President, International Diabetes Federation

Last year, diabetes was responsible for an estimated four million deaths. Many of these deaths could have been prevented. This number is expected to increase to 522 million over the next decade.

Diabetes does not just affect individuals – it has an impact on entire families. It is fair to suggest that most of us know somebody living with diabetes. Today, the disease represents a concern for every family – from the parents of a child with type 1 diabetes, to people caring for an adult family member with diabetes complications, and those with a family member at risk of type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and lower limb amputation.

With the rising healthcare and societal costs associated with diabetes – USD727 billion in direct medical costs alone in 2017 – we must think about how the increasing prevalence can be tackled and the related complications prevented. It is an ambition that will require a whole-of-society approach.

If healthcare professionals are able to establish earlier diagnoses, we can ensure that the person with diabetes receives the treatment they need more urgently to prevent the potentially devastating complications associated with the disease. Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and lower limb amputation.

If untreated, type 1 diabetes is a death sentence

Of the estimated 425 million people currently living with diabetes, around 10% have type 1 diabetes. This type of diabetes has to be treated with insulin. At present, there is no way to prevent type 1 diabetes. If untreated, the diagnosis of type 1 diabetes is a death sentence.

Type 2 can often be treated through diet and exercise

This leaves around 90% with type 2 diabetes. In many cases – up to 80% according to some figures – type 2 diabetes can be prevented through regular physical activity and healthy eating habits. 

Unfortunately, type 2 diabetes often flies under the radar. Onset can be slow and the warning signs and symptoms not obvious. In fact, one in two of all people currently living with diabetes remain undiagnosed.

Governments must promote healthy lifestyle initiatives

We all have a role to play but governments need to do more to help us protect family members from developing type 2 diabetes and its life-threatening complications. Governments must ensure people with all types of diabetes have access to the medicines and care they require. Families expect more. Our recent global research shows that only one in five (17%) people believe their government is doing enough to tackle diabetes.

Governments can help stop the rise in type 2 diabetes by focusing on education initiatives and establishing polices that support an improved lifestyle and dietary choices. They need to help identify people who are not yet diagnosed, and those at high-risk, so the medical community can intervene early before people are left needing treatment for diabetes complications.

Habits formed in teenage years can have long-lasting consequences

It is critical that we educate children and young adults about the behaviours that can lead to type 2 diabetes. More than two thirds (70%) of premature deaths in adults are often the result of behaviour that began during adolescence. We therefore need to influence the adoption of habits that facilitate prevention and create environments that encourage health. We must work with parents to help them provide their children with a blueprint for a healthy future.

There’s work to be done. But if governments, healthcare organisations and families across the globe take action now, we will be in a better position to discover, manage and prevent diabetes for future generations.

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