Diabetes is killing many more New Zealanders than once thought, and revised figures rank it close behind illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and stroke.
Experts agree diabetes deaths have been heavily undercounted for years because few diabetics are killed directly by the illness. Instead, they die from complications caused by diabetes, such as heart disease and stroke.
The Ministry of Health said this year’s diabetes death toll was estimated to be between 2500 and 3000 people - more than triple the 800 in official mortality statistics for 2001.
Researchers say the diabetes epidemic is gathering pace faster than predicted. The diabetes research fellow at Auckland University’s Waikato clinical school, Grace Joshy, said about 1000 more diabetes cases were found in a 2003 nationwide health survey than the Health Ministry had predicted for that year. The survey found 112,000 diabetes cases nationwide, about 1% more than ministry predictions.
The ministry estimates the number of diagnosed diabetics has grown to 125,000. Another 125,000 are undiagnosed, and 300,000 are believed to be pre-diabetic. Joshy said that based on her research, those estimates would have to be increased.
Another study, reported in Australia yesterday, shows excessive eating, rather than lack of exercise, is to blame for rocketing child obesity rates.
Diabetes can be detected in a simple blood test, which picks up the high blood sugar levels that are the hallmark of diabetes. Doctors recommend men over 45 and women over 55 have a yearly test.