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NZ faces wave of diabetes - study

Friday 1 Mar 2013 5:38 a.m.

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Almost 20 percent of adult New Zealanders are facing the prospect of diabetes, new research shows.

An analysis of blood test results taken by Otago University researchers in 2008-09 showed that 18.6 percent of adults had a glucose metabolism disorder which typically leads to diabetes.

This was on top of the 7 percent of adults who already had diabetes at the time of the survey, which the authors said was already high.

"The implications of increased diabetes-related morbidity, mortality and health care costs are considerable," researcher Dr Kirsten Coppell said.

"Implementation of effective evidence-based diabetes prevention strategies is urgently required to reduce the increasing costs of the diabetes epidemic."

Dr Coppell said the glucose disorder was found in nearly 20 percent of those aged 35-44, in more than 25 percent of those aged 45-54, and nearly 45 percent of those aged 55-64.

The blood sample data showed diabetes was more frequent in men (8.3 percent) than women (5.8 percent), and higher among the obese (14.2 percent) than the "normal" weight group (2.4 percent).

It was also more prevalent among Pacific Islanders (15.1 percent) than Maori (9.8 percent) and NZ Europeans and others (6.1 percent).

Diabetes is a common chronic disease with significant morbidity, mortality and cost.

Dr Coppell told Firstline this morning people need to eat better, eat less and exercise more, as being overweight is the greatest risk factor associated with the disease.

"Eating more fruit and vegetables as opposed to the more convenient foods, and eating less. Just very simple things that have changed over time. If you go and buy a dinner set today, the plates are much bigger, so we just put on the food.

"Also exercising – and that doesn't mean going off to the gym, we can incorporate exercise into our life. For example, I'm really busy. I don't have time to go to the gym, so I make sure I walk up the stairs to work. We need to work out how best we can incorporate it into our current lives, when there's so many temptations of food everywhere."

She says the Government needs to take "leadership", as the costs associated with obesity and diabetes are only going up.

"Diabetes is already stretching our health system," says Dr Coppell. If we're looking at the number and the cost of drugs required to treat this illness, it's increasing. I think in 2011 over $50 million was spent on just medications.

"Then we have the cost of having people in hospital, and when we're thinking about individuals and their families, there's a cost – we don't feel well, we don't go to work. So that covers the whole sector, really.

"I think we all need to realise we have a serious problem, we need that leadership from the Government."

Blood samples of 3348 people who participated in the NZ Adult Nutrition Survey were analysed.

NZN / 3 News

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