Monthly Archives: April 2016

The Generalisation of the term “diabetes”

Often I hear a news report or read a magazine article on diabetes and unfortunately the majority of the time the author will fail to distinguish between type 1 and 2 diabetes.

The latest offenders are the World Health Organisation (WHO), publishing a major report on how the number of adults with diabetes has “almost quadrupled since 1980 to 422 million adults.” They claim factors driving the rise include “overweight and obesity.” The report completely merges type 1 and 2 diabetes together; hence those uneducated about diabetes would assume that both types are due to an individual’s unhealthy diet or lifestyle.

Report published by the WHO; can be accessed via http://www.who.int/diabetes/global-report/en/
Report published by the WHO; can be accessed via http://www.who.int/diabetes/global-report/en/

There is a clear difference between type 1 and 2 and it would not be difficult to explain so that the public do not stereotype those with diabetes as “overweight” or “obese.” In a previous blog entry I explained how my sister has type 1 diabetes. Type 1 is an autoimmune condition, whereby the body’s pancreas cannot produce the hormone insulin to maintain blood glucose levels. Whereas type 2, which is more common, is predominantly due to individuals eating unhealthy and leading an inactive lifestyle.

The WHO are right in publishing the report to make the public aware of the complications of being overweight, however they should have separated data on type 1 and 2 diabetes because they are effectively two different conditions. They may be diagnosed in the same way but the treatment and causes are completely different.

The report was interesting as I discovered that 2.2 million additional deaths were caused by higher-than-optima blood glucose levels as well as finding that the Eastern Mediterranean region actually has the highest estimate of prevalence of adults with diabetes; whereas Europe has a much lower estimate. Hence, it seems low and middle income countries are now experiencing a burden of type 2 diabetes. In the BBC article about the WHO report they declare that “Diabetes itself is the eighth biggest killer in the world, accounting for 1.5 million deaths each year.” Indeed, this is an astonishing statistic; however it completely generalises type 1 and type 2 diabetes when evidently much less people experience fatal consequences with type 1.

Estimates of the prevalence of diabetes in adults within different regions of the world (as of 2016)
Estimates of the prevalence of diabetes in adults within different regions of the world 

1 in 3 people are now overweight and this is obviously the major cause for type 2 diabetes which needs to be prevented. Treatment for type 2 diabetes is much simpler than type 1; focusing on 3 major areas- diet, weight and physical activity. What’s more, type 2 diabetes can actually be prevented, whereas type 1 cannot be. If type 2 could be prevented in the first place the NHS would have to fund less treatment for the complications it causes such as strokes, kidney failure, blindness, etc. More funding could then go into researching for a cure for type 1 diabetes and improving the quality of those with this type of the condition, for example ensuring that all diabetics have the choice whether to use an insulin pen or insulin pump, particularly diabetic children.

The effect of type 2 diabetes is becoming an ever increasing burden on our NHS and the health of the world population. We need to act in order to prevent it dominating our future health and generations to come. I often feel it is unfair that type 2 diabetes is always the focus of our concern; indeed it affects many more people than type 1 but the majority of type 2 sufferers could have prevented such diagnosis in the first place. In conclusion, type 2 diabetes needs to be dealt with and controlled, but we must not forget about the need for a cure for type 1 diabetes to improve the quality of lives of those suffering from it.