Diabetes is a serious threat to global health. According to
figures from the International Diabetes Federation (IDF),
the disease was responsible for an estimated four million
deaths in 2017. Many of these deaths could have been
prevented or delayed with greater investment to help
discover, prevent and manage diabetes.
Phil Riley, Campaign Director, International Diabetes Federation
The number of people with diabetes is expected to affect one in ten people
worldwide (522 million) within a decade.
Tackling the epidemic will require concertedaction. Government, industry and civil
society need to make sure people get the right information to recognise and prevent diabetes, and make sure people living with diabetes have affordable access to care.
Around 10% of the 425 million people currently living with diabetes have type 1[i], an auto-immune disease that cannot be prevented. While there are other types of diabetes, most people with diabetes have type 2. This type of diabetes can be prevented in many cases (up to 80% according to some studies) through regular physical activity and a healthy diet. However, it can fly under the radar because the warning signs and symptoms are not always obvious. All types of diabetes are serious. According to recent IDF research, most people around the world believe their government could be doing more to tackle diabetes. Just 17% think their government is doing enough.[ii]
More government investment is needed to train health professionals to identify people at high risk and advise them on how they can try to avoid diabetes. Health professionals also need to identify diabetes in people before they develop complications.
Diabetes can have devastating consequences. It is a leading cause of blindness, lower limb loss, heart attack, and kidney failure. Detecting diabetes early and a focus on prevention would mean money saved and misery avoided.
A DIABETES DIAGNOSIS CAN HIT HARD
We should also consider the emotions people with diabetes can face. The
diagnosis can come as a shock and one or more of the associated complications
already present. IDF found that 43% of people with diabetes felt anxious when they were diagnosed and a third (34%) preferred not to talk about having the disease because they feared they would be discriminated against.
This could be down to a lack of understanding about diabetes in general and how type 2 diabetes develops in particular. Some people may feel a personal responsibility when diabetes is discovered. However, diagnosis should not come with any sense of shame or blame but with sympathy and support.
PREVENTION THROUGH EDUCATION
The interaction of the forces driving the rise in type 2 diabetes is extremely complex.
Addressing the problem will require an all-of society approach. Unfortunately, complexity is often met with apathy as different actors choose to do nothing or little to support the need for change.
Times are tough for many people living in developing countries, where adopting a healthier lifestyle can be difficult to achieve. We can hardly expect people to live healthier lives when they do not know how to or cannot afford to. More than two thirds (70%) of premature deaths among adults are often the result of behaviour that starts during adolescence. It is critical, therefore, that children and teenagers are taught about the behaviours that can lead to type 2 diabetes and other serious conditions. Ultimately, this education could help save their lives.
In some places, action has been taken to reduce the exposure of children and
young adults to unhealthy foods, but many countries lag behind. Powerful marketing
forces still tempt children to consume, often over consume, foods high in sugar, salt and fat. More action should be taken to make healthy diets more appealing to younger people. The powerful marketing techniques that are used to nudge families into making unhealthy choices could be used just as effectively to help families make better choices. Governments need to legislate to help parents provide their children with a blueprint for a healthy future.
Health systems across the globe are struggling to cope with the growing numbers with diabetes. In many countries the resources are simply not available to invest in prevention and providing regular and affordable access to essential medicines and supplies.
Diabetes medicine and supplies are often priced beyond the reach of those who need them most. Half of the people we recently surveyed said they were worried about the overall cost of diabetes medication. This puts a strain not only on the individual who has been diagnosed, but also on the family, who may have to spend beyond their means to pay for care.
HELPING FAMILIES IN THEIR TIME OF NEED
Managing diabetes can be a challenge and requires a daily commitment, from watching what you eat and taking medication to checking blood sugar levels and keeping them under control.
Families have a significant role to play in supporting any loved ones with diabetes, whether that’s a child who requires insulin injections or an elderly relative who needs help to check her feet for wounds. But they need help and guidance on how to cope and what they need to do. People with diabetes should have continuous and affordable access to the care, education and support that is required for them to live a full and healthy life. Family members are often overlooked. They also need to understand how they can be an effective support to their loved one with diabetes.
While families are often a great comfort to us during a time of need, those who have been diagnosed are still wary about being open about diabetes, even with their loved ones. IDF found nearly one in two of those diagnosed (46%) said they do not want to burden to their families, and half (51%) also said their diagnosis had put a strain on their family.
Families can struggle to help loved ones who have been diagnosed and can feel under emotional pressure. Our research revealed that a third of people felt anxious (35%) or scared (33%) when a family member was diagnosed with diabetes.
How can people with diabetes cope if they do not reach out to those closest to them? Government action to provide support services for both the physical and mental impact of diabetes would help.
Diabetes has become a global epidemic, with lives needlessly lost and healthcare systems pushed to new limits. We’re fast approaching a point where the epidemic will become uncontrollable. Diabetes now concerns every family. We need to make the changes today to protect the families of tomorrow.