Sunday, October 10, 2004

Britain Facing Diabetes 'Catastrophe'

Britain Facing Diabetes 'Catastrophe'
By Jeremy Laurance
Health Editor
The Independent - UK

Britain is facing a huge increase in diabetes in what doctors are calling one of the greatest health catastrophes the developed world has seen.
In the UK, 1.8 million people live with the condition, which reduces life expectancy by 10 years, is the leading cause of blindness and increases by 15 times the risk of amputation of the legs, according to a report published yesterday.
The numbers affected have grown by 400,000 in the past eight years - a 28 per cent increase - and are set to almost double by 2010 to three million. The main drivers of the trend are obesity and inactivity.
The report by Diabetes UK says the disease risks becoming "unmanageable" unless greater efforts are made to curb its growth. Britain has the fastest growing rate of obesity in the developed world, it says.
Douglas Smallwood, the group's chief executive, said: "The number of people with diabetes is increasing at an alarming rate. The challenge now is to ensure that they are diagnosed early and treated effectively. We cannot afford to wait until people have heart attacks or have problems with their sight or kidneys before they get the care they need."
Diabetes affects 5 per cent of the world's population and its prevalence is doubling with every generation, fuelled by Western lifestyles.
Diabetes occurs when the glucose level in the blood is too high because the body cannot use it properly. In the UK, sufferers spend more than one million days a year in hospital, and the condition costs the NHS more than £10m a day. Within seven years, one pound in every 10 spent on the NHS will go on diabetes. More than 80 per cent of those affected will die of heart attacks or strokes, and a 1,000 a year have to start on kidney dialysis.
Most of the increase is in Type 2 diabetes, in which the body loses its capacity to make insulin, a hormone which helps glucose enter the cells, or becomes resistant to insulin.
The main cause of the rise in Type 2 or "late onset" diabetes is the growth in the number of overweight people. The risk is 10 times higher in those with a body mass index over 30.
Type 2 usually occurs in older people, but as Britain gets fatter it affects younger adults. The report says 91,000 people with Type 2 diabetes are aged between 15 and 44. It is five times more prevalent in Afro-Caribbeans and Asians.
David Haslam, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said it had been rare to see Type 2 diabetes in the under-40s a decade ago. "With nearly one in four of the population overweight or obese, the diabetic timebomb is just waiting to explode. This epidemic could cripple the NHS and the economy," he said.
Worldwide, diabetes affects 150 million people. It has more than doubled from 70 million in 1975, and is set to rise to 300 million by 2025. Sir George Alberti, the past president of the International Diabetes Federation, said: "If anything, we have underestimated the global figures. It is quite frightening. This is one of the biggest health catastrophes the world has ever seen. The financial and social burden of the disease will be intolerable if governments do not sit up and take notice now."
Sir George said the situation in Britain was "not great" but things were being done. A national service framework for diabetes with a 10-year plan to improve care of patients on the NHS was launched last year and John Reid, the Health Secretary, is due to publish a White Paper on public health shortly.
Sandra Danks had been feeling ill for six years when she had a heart attack at the age of 35.
"I had had chest pains since I was 29. Doctors put it down to panic attacks. But this time the pains went on for two days and a blood test showed I had had a heart attack," she said.
Not long after, she was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, which had gone undetected and almost certainly lay behind her heart problems.
Like a lot of women, she had put on weight during her twenties, but was still in the normal range for her height - 5ft 8ins - at 11 stone. But after she had the heart attack, the pounds piled on, and her weight rose to 15 stone.
"I thought I would change my lifestyle, but I ended up putting on loads of weight. I didn't move very much or exercise, as I was scared to go out."
Her consultant talked to her about her weight and explained that people who store weight around their middle, like her, were at greatest risk.
"Every time I went to see him he drummed it into me. I had to do something in the end and I feel much better for it." She has lost two and a half stone and is aiming to lose a couple more to bring her weight down to around 10 or 11 stone. But she has been forced to go on to anti-diabetic medication to help control her blood sugar level.
Her anxiety about her health forced her to give up her job as a power press operator because she thought she might "die at work". Now aged 43, she and her partner work as foster parents in Birmingham, where they live. She said: "If people are worried they should get themselves checked out. There are people who go misdiagnosed so they should persevere. You can lead a normal life."