Diabetes epidemic worse than expected, experts warn

TIME TO ACT: Diabetes expert Professor Glen Maberly has warned that diabetes rates are far worse in western Sydney than previously thought. Picture: Supplied

TIME TO ACT: Diabetes expert Professor Glen Maberly has warned that diabetes rates are far worse in western Sydney than previously thought. Picture: Supplied

Blacktown is at the heart of one of the greatest health epidemics of the 21st century, with the latest figures showing diabetes rates are worse than previously thought.

In less than a year of ground-breaking targeted testing at Blacktown Hospital, almost 12,000 people have been identified as having type 2 diabetes or being at high risk of diabetes.

Of the 26,000 people tested as part of routine blood checks in the hospital’s emergency department, 17 per cent were diabetic and 28 per cent were pre-diabetic, meaning they could soon develop the disease.

Western Sydney Diabetes director, Professor Glen Maberly, said the rate of diabetes in the adult population of western Sydney could be as high as one in ten.

“If data emerging from this targeted testing holds consistent across the community, diabetes is a far bigger problem than anybody has anticipated,” he said.

“Previous estimations have been around six per cent. We don’t know for sure, we’re trying to find out, but it seems like it’s a bigger problem.”

LEADERS: Premier Gladys Berejiklian presents the 2017 Pemulwuy Prize to Western Sydney Health chief Danny O'Connor and Western Sydney Leadership chair Christopher Brown for the Western Sydney Diabetes Initiative. The initiative brings together 50 organisations each addressing the disease. Picture: Supplied

LEADERS: Premier Gladys Berejiklian presents the 2017 Pemulwuy Prize to Western Sydney Health chief Danny O'Connor and Western Sydney Leadership chair Christopher Brown for the Western Sydney Diabetes Initiative. The initiative brings together 50 organisations each addressing the disease. Picture: Supplied

Western Sydney Diabetes has worked with 180 doctors at 40 practices in the past year to improve management of diabetes. Professor Maberly has urged doctors and residents to take advantage of the government-subsidised blood test.

“If you’re over 20, you’re overweight and you live in western Sydney, it would be worthwhile going to the GP and asking to have a diabetes test,” he said.

One in five people admitted to Blacktown Hospital had diabetes – a figure that shoots up to 42 per cent in the cardiology ward.

Professor Maberly said the average person with diabetes costs the health system $16,000 per year, while every $1 invested in prevention would return at least $3-$4 in savings. The average pre-diabetic patient can reduce their risk of developing diabetes by 30 per cent if they lose just two kilograms.

The expert said he is in favour of a sugar tax and other “big levers” the federal government could pull, but said it must be accompanied by serious action from stakeholders including local and state government, schools, sport clubs and the food sector.

“We won’t beat diabetes through the medical system,” Professor Maberly said.

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