The size of New Zealand's growing diabetes epidemic has
often been underestimated, and its high costs could prove
overwhelming, unless urgent action is taken, University of
Otago researcher Dr Kirsten Coppell warns.
Dr Coppell, who is a senior research fellow at the
university's Edgar National Centre for Diabetes and Obesity
Research, gave a paper on the prevalence of diabetes and
pre-diabetes at an international health conference at the
university this week.
The massive toll on patients, their families and the economy
resulting from the growing surge in type 2 diabetes was
"incredibly serious", she said in an interview.
Studies conducted in Finland and elsewhere have showed that
people at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes can greatly
improve their health outcomes, including avoiding diabetes,
by increasing exercise and adopting a more balanced diet,
with less saturated fat and sugar.
Dr Coppell said greater emphasis was needed from government
in promoting such positive lifestyle changes, to reduce
obesity and lessen risks of developing type 2 diabetes.
The provision of insulin, some diabetes-related medication
and blood-testing strips already cost the country more than
$50 million a year.
Other drugs, including cholesterol-lowering medication, and
other requirements, including dialysis treatment, added
considerably to current medical costs.
But the "actual burden of disease" had been underestimated,
because previous national diabetes prevalence estimates had
not included undiagnosed cases.
Analysis of data from the 2008-09 New Zealand Adult Nutrition
Survey and associated research involving several of her
colleagues, including centre director Prof Jim Mann, showed
6% of New Zealand men and 4% of women reported having
medically confirmed diabetes.
However, further research showed another 2.1% of men and 1.5%
of women also had previously undiagnosed diabetes.
Such overall diabetes prevalence figures were higher among
Maori men and women (8.8% and 9.8% respectively), and among
Further adding to concerns was another sizeable group of
people with a pre-diabetic condition which was likely to lead
to diabetes in the future.
The Otago International Health Research Network's fifth
annual conference has been organised by the Otago Centre for