Don't underestimate diabetes, expert warns

Don't underestimate diabetes, expert warns

An Auckland University health researcher is warning the health system is at risk of being overwhelmed by the growing diabetes epidemic.

Dr Rinki Murphy says already 50 percent of hospital admissions involve diabetes, whether as the primary cause or a complicating factor. Diabetes spending in New Zealand is expected to rise to about $1 billion within five years -- 15 percent of all health spending.

It already accounts for 10 percent of health spending in the UK, costing £10 billion a year.

A quarter of that spending takes place in the last year of a patient's life.

"Thanks to the great advances in diabetes management, we're able to live longer with diabetes," says Dr Murphy, bringing the overall cost of treatment up.

She wants more focus on education and prevention. Many people at risk of developing type 2 diabetes don't realise it's a problem until it's too late.

"It creeps up on you, and the complications do take time. In the early phases of the disease many people can ignore it and they don't feel the consequences."

While it's largely the result of "lifestyle choices", Dr Murphy acknowledges it's easier for some to avoid than others.

"We need to be wary of the fact not everyone is on the same level playing field in being able to adopt those choices," she says.

Getting in early is the key.

"We need to engage the public, we need to engage children and have a school curriculum that includes the science behind obesity and diabetes," she explains.

"We need to have more collective actions to make the healthy choices easier ones for all sections of society, and invest in research."

New Zealand is the third-fattest country in the world, behind only the United States and Mexico according to the World Health Organisation.

The Government has refused to take action against sugar-filled food, saying taxes won't work.