7th April, is the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s World Health Day.

This year’s theme is “Beat Diabetes”, drawing attention to the scale of this global problem, highlighting that action must be taken to treat and most importantly prevent diabetes.

Diabetes – The staggering statistics

Incredibly, the number of worldwide diabetes sufferers has approximately quadrupled in the last 35 years – from 108 million in 1980 to 422 million in 2014 – the most recent data. Numbers are continuing to rise dramatically.

Diabetes can be a very serious condition, leading to a number of severe complications and even death.

  • Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness, leg amputation, and kidney failure.
  • It can also lead to strokes and heart attacks. About 50% of deaths in people with diabetes are caused by cardiovascular disease.
  • In the next decade, deaths from diabetes are expected to increase by more than 50%.
  • Diabetes is predicted to become the world’s 7th leading cause of death by 2030.

Obesity is strongly correlated with diabetes. It’s thought that the main factor behind this is the inflammation caused by obesity.

We’re also seeing a massive growth in the proportion of the population who are obese – a study recently published in the Lancet revealing that more people are now obese than underweight.

It’s predicted that 20% of the world’s adults will be obese by 2025.

Diabetes at a Molecular Level

So what actually is diabetes?  It’s a chronic long-term condition characterised by high blood sugar levels due to problems with insulin.

Insulin is the hormone released by beta cells in the pancreas that enables glucose in your bloodstream, from the carbohydrates you consume, to be transported into your cells to use as energy, or for storage.

There are two main types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes – previously called juvenile diabetes, this type usually develops in young people. In type 1 diabetes, the insulin-producing beta cells are attacked and destroyed by the immune system – the result being a lack of insulin.
  • Type 2 diabetes – thought of as adult-onset diabetes, it’s most commonly developed in later life – though it can still affect children. Sufferers are insulin resistant – their cells not effectively responding to insulin produced. While initially the body makes extra insulin to compensate, in advanced type 2 diabetes, a lack of insulin may also develop, due to damage to the beta cells.

What can be done to prevent diabetes?

The causes of type 1 diabetes are unknown – it’s not linked with obesity, for instance – and it’s unfortunately not preventable.

However, in type 2 diabetes, which makes up about 90% of all diabetes cases, lifestyle factors are a major cause – which, reassuringly, means we can help prevent and treat diabetes simply by eating healthily and exercising regularly – and controlling our weight.

For more information about diabetes, check the World Health Day website. They also have plenty of resources for anyone who wants to get involved with the global fight against diabetes.