The Malta Independent 3 October 2022, Monday
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Malta Has highest rate of diabetes in the EU

Malta Independent Sunday, 15 November 2009, 00:00 Last update: about 9 years ago

With about 10 per cent of the Maltese population suffering from diabetes, Malta has the highest incidence in the EU.

It’s not rocket science, yet we continue to ignore the most basic of things. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is crystal clear about it: diabetes is an emerging global epidemic that can be traced back to rapid increases in overweight, obesity and physical inactivity.

Total deaths from diabetes are projected to rise by more than 50 per cent in the next 10 years. On the occasion of World Diabetes Day, Parliamentary Secretary for Health Joe Cassar has been participating in a number of events aimed at raising diabetes awareness.

Addressing a press conference at the Mosta Health Centre on Friday, Dr Cassar pointed out the very high incidence of diabetes in Malta. And with 10 per cent of the population suffering from diabetes, the Maltese are the ones who are worst off in the EU.

The only people in the EU who come anywhere close are the Greeks (7.6 per cent), the Italians (7.4 per cent), the Portuguese (6.4 per cent), the Cypriots (6.3 per cent), the Bulgarians (6.2 per cent), the Spanish (six per cent) and the Romanians (5.1 per cent). The rest of the EU member states have rates ranging between two and four per cent.

The 2004 Eurostat Yearbook revealed that in Malta diabetes fatalities are nearly double the EU average of 13.9 lives per 100,000 people.

In 1985, there were an estimated 30 million people with diabetes worldwide. Today there are more than 245 million people, over a seven-fold increase in just over 20 years. If nothing is done to slow down the epidemic, within 20 years the number of people with diabetes will reach 380 million.

The costs of diabetes complications account for between five and 10 per cent of total healthcare spending in the world.

‘Diabetes Education and Prevention’ is the World Diabetes Day theme for the period 2009-2013. The campaign calls on all those responsible for the care of diabetics to understand diabetes and take control.

For people with diabetes, this is a message about empowerment through education. For governments, it is a call to implement effective strategies and policies for the prevention and management of diabetes to safeguard the health of their citizens with, and at risk of, diabetes.

For healthcare professionals, it is a call to improve knowledge so that evidence-based recommendations are put into practice.

For the general public, it is a call to understand the serious impact of diabetes and know, where possible, how to avoid or delay diabetes and its complications.

One of the people who addressed yesterday’s seminar was John Soler, a water polo player with Sliema and the national team.

A Type 1 diabetes sufferer himself, he said that when he discovered he had diabetes, a lot of people who knew him made it seem as if he was going to die.

Giving advice, he said diabetes sufferers, especially children, should never lose heart because the disease is controllable.

“Children who suffer from diabetes cannot eat as many sweets as they like, true, but diabetes sufferers are always physically fit and keep themselves healthy. Besides, you can still live a normal life.

“In the same year I discovered I had diabetes, when I was 22, I won the ‘best

player’ award in the water polo championship,” said Mr Soler.

At present, Type 1 diabetes (characterised by a lack of insulin production) cannot be prevented. The triggers that are thought to generate the process that results in the destruction of the body’s insulin-producing cells are still under investigation.

But Type 2 diabetes (which results from the body’s ineffective use of insulin) can be prevented in many cases by maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active.

Type 2 diabetes is much more common than type 1 diabetes, and accounts for around 90 per cent of all diabetes worldwide.

Reports of Type 2 diabetes in children – previously rare – have increased worldwide. In some countries, it accounts for almost half of newly diagnosed cases in children and adolescents.

A third type of diabetes is gestational diabetes. This type is characterised by hyperglycaemia, or raised blood sugar, which is first recognised during pregnancy.

In 2005, 1.1 million people died from diabetes. The full impact is much larger, because although people may live for years with diabetes, their cause of death is often recorded as heart disease or kidney failure.

Lack of awareness about diabetes, combined with insufficient access to health services, can lead to complications such as blindness, amputation and kidney failure.

The International Diabetes Foundation (IDF) recommends a goal of at least 30 minutes of daily exercise, such as brisk walking, swimming, cycling or dancing.

Regular walking for at least 30 minutes per day, for example, has been shown to reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes by 35 to 40 per cent.

IDF recommends that all people at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes be identified through self-screening.

People at high risk can be easily identified through a simple questionnaire to assess risk factors such as age, waist circumference, family history, cardiovascular history and gestational history.

Once identified, people at high risk of diabetes should have their blood glucose levels measured by a health professional.

There are many risk factors for type 2 diabetes. They include:

• Obesity and overweight

• Lack of exercise

• Previously identified glucose intolerance

• Unhealthy diet

• Increased age

• High blood pressure and high cholesterol

• A family history of diabetes

• A history of gestational diabetes

• Ethnicity – higher rates of diabetes have been reported in Asians, Hispanics, indigenous peoples (USA, Canada, Australia) and African Americans.

If you think you are at risk of type 2

diabetes, get tested!

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