Governments must act on biggest epidemic in human history

The diabetes pandemic is threatening to overwhelm global healthcare services. The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) launched a new consensus statement on diabetes prevention, to be published in the May issue of Diabetic Medicine, hot on the heels of a December 2006 United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for concerted international action.

"The UN resolution is a huge win in the fight against the biggest disease epidemic in human history. Diabetes is responsible for close to 4 million deaths every year. With 246 million people with diabetes now and 380 million people with diabetes by 2025, diabetes is set to bankrupt national economies(1)" said Professor Paul Zimmet, Director, International Diabetes Institute and co-author of the consensus. "Type 2 diabetes can be prevented, but it will take enormous political will on the part of governments to make this a reality. They can achieve this by creating the environment that allows individuals to make lifestyle changes. That is why we are calling on all countries to endorse the UN resolution and to target entire populations through the development and implementation of National Diabetes Prevention Plans."

The new IDF consensus recommends that all individuals at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes be identified through opportunistic screening by doctors, nurses, pharmacists and through self-screening.

Professor Sir George Alberti, Past President of IDF and co-author of the new IDF consensus said: "There is overwhelming evidence from studies in the USA, Finland, China, India and Japan that lifestyle changes (achieving a healthy body weight and moderate physical activity) can help prevent the development of type 2 diabetes in those at high risk(2-6) The new IDF consensus advocates that this should be the initial intervention for all people at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, as well as the focus of population health approaches."

In addition to the need for individual lifestyle change, IDF recognizes that there are powerful environmental forces that influence the behavioural, eating and exercise patterns of the community.

"Inadvertently, our own government authorities may have contributed to this epidemic by allowing developers to create urban social problems,' said Professor Avi Friedman, Professor of Architecture at McGill University, Montreal. "Urban sprawls are part and parcel of new developments without proper attention to building design, sidewalks, bike paths, public transport corridors, playing fields and friendly exercise areas that are essential and need to be accessible to people who want to maintain a healthy lifestyle."

National Diabetes Prevention Plans will therefore require coordinated policy and legislative changes across all sectors including health, education, sports and agriculture, as well as the formation of strategic relationships. They must be culturally sensitive and targeted to mobilize all sectors of the community.

"Diabetes is already a massive social cost, and it is up to politicians to decide whether they will spend more and more money on acute care and drugs, or invest in prevention by supporting lifestyle change among the entire population," said Professor Alberti.

"A Kyoto-like agreement on diabetes prevention and management is needed among governments worldwide if we are to prevent this problem from becoming catastrophic," concluded Professor Zimmet.

For further information, please access the webcast of the press conference via http://www.idf.org/webcast/barcelona

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