Are the risks associated with diabetes overdone?

by Mark Benson on August 27, 2012

Are the risks associated with diabetes overdone?

Time and time again governments and health organisations around the world have suggested that the risks associated with diabetes are extreme and the risk of developing the condition continues to grow. We hear doomsday scenarios that hundreds of millions of people around the world are currently suffering from diabetes and this is set to increase dramatically in the years ahead. But are the risks associated with diabetes and the risk of developing the condition overdone?

Historically we have seen a number of medical conditions put forward as a potential threat to the existence of the human race. We have seen doomsday scenarios discussed time and time again in the press only for them to fail, falter and become side notes in the history of the human race. So is the situation with diabetes really a risk to the future?

The World Health Organisation

There are many health organisations around the world which have a particular agenda with regards to studies and data on specific illnesses and conditions. However, the World Health Organisation is seen as a totally unbiased institution which has an array of information and data on each and every medical condition you can think of. It is the first stop for many investigative journalists looking at data on specific medical conditions and as such their case studies are covered in great detail around the world.

The actual basic figures for diabetes, as collated by the World Health Organisation, are truly astounding with an estimated 350 million people around the world suffering from the condition. Indeed it does take some time to put together accurate data but if you look at 2004 for instance – well before instances of diabetes began to rise at great speed – it is believed that in excess of 3.4 million people died because of high blood sugar levels. This figure could be significantly higher today because the problem of obesity is growing, instances of strongly linked medical conditions are increasing and the situation is getting worse.

Does diabetes impact specific social groups?

While there is no doubt that type II diabetes specifically is very closely linked to obesity and an unhealthy lifestyle, it seems that diabetes deaths are occurring in low and middle income countries around the world with more than 80% of worldwide deaths in these specific areas. This is perhaps a little puzzling because when you bear in mind that diabetes type II in particular is seen as a lifestyle condition, connected to an unhealthy diet, rich foods, lack of exercise, etc, surely these are more closely linked with the high-income countries around the world than low to middle income countries?

The official statistics seem to suggest that deaths from diabetes are more prevalent in low and middle income countries whereas the reality is that those on higher incomes are perhaps enjoying rich foods, a more jet set lifestyle and are seeing a reduction in their exercise. Then again, it may well be that those in higher income countries are still being impacted by diabetes but perhaps they are able to afford better treatments than those on lower incomes?

Does diabetes have a knock-on effect to other conditions?

Despite the fact that there are enormous risks from diabetes itself it does have a material impact upon other conditions which are potentially life-threatening. It is well documented that diabetes has a major impact upon the risk of heart disease and strokes and official data suggest that around 50% of people with diabetes will encounter some form of cardiovascular disease which will be terminal. There is also the risk of blindness, which seems to occur in 2% of those who have suffered diabetes for 15 years or more, with 10% developing severe visual impairments. Kidney failure is also another major problem for those with diabetes with around 10% to 20% of sufferers actually losing their lives due to kidney failure. There is also an array of other conditions directly linked to diabetes and slowly but surely the impact of this condition is becoming more and more evident.

The impact on state funds

We have already covered the cost of diabetes to the UK NHS health care system and the fact that some experts believe it could actually bankrupt the system in the years ahead unless development rates are reduced. However, there is a very interesting case study on the World Health Organisation website which relates to China and the potential impact which diabetes, stroke and heart disease could have during the period 2006 to 2015. We must warn you that these figures are astounding!

When you take into account the cost to healthcare, families, individuals and the local economy the World Health Organisation estimates that China will lose in excess of $558 billion in national income due to these three conditions during the period 2006 to 2015. Can you imagine the impact this would have on economic growth if replicated around the world as the social and economic cost of diabetes becomes more evident? It is difficult to talk about these figures without seeming alarmist but the reality is that diabetes is not only a potential killer condition on its own but also has the ability to encourage other conditions – not to mention the financial downside.

Diabetes is a real challenge!

While there have been a number of medical conditions and medical diseases mentioned in the past as potential doomsday scenarios there is no doubt that diabetes has the real potential to cause major problems around the globe. One of the main issues is the fact that we do not fully understand what makes the condition tick even though scientists have now identified dozens of genes in the DNA of diabetics which may have a significant impact on future treatments and future prevention.

If scientists were to find a way to “switch off” these various genes associated with diabetes then there is the potential to not only reduce the development of a condition but potentially avoid the condition indefinitely. These are very much future aspirations from the world of science and medicine but the reality is that the more detailed the understanding of the DNA of diabetes the more chance of finding a long-term solution to what could be, and what is for many people, a seriously debilitating and potentially terminal condition. Do not underestimate the threat of diabetes!


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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