Northern Ireland is in dire need of an NHS diabetes screening service to tackle exploding numbers of the life-threatening condition being fuelled by rising levels of obesity.
That’s the call from Diabetes UK Northern Ireland as the charity warns the province could be facing a Type 2 diabetes epidemic because hundreds of thousands of people are overweight.
Diabetes UK estimates that some 201,000 people here have a condition known as ‘prediabetes’ — an under-diagnosed condition which makes them 15 times more likely to develop diabetes.
The condition is seen as a precursor to Type 2 diabetes, a serious condition that can lead to long-term complications such as heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, amputation and blindness.
Currently there are 66,000 people in Northern Ireland with Type 2, which is often associated with obesity. But this level is expected to soar drastically, increasing the already heavy burden diabetes places on the health service.
Diabetes UK Northern Ireland director Iain Foster said it was “absolutely staggering” more than 200,000 people here had prediabetes. Highlighting the value of people finding out whether they have prediabetes, he said sufferers still have a chance to offset Type 2 by improving their lifestyles.
“Identifying and educating people with prediabetes is vital as it’s not too late for many to make healthy lifestyle changes, reverse the condition completely and drastically reduce their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes,” he said.
“Recent figures show that more than 4,200 new cases of mainly Type 2 diabetes were diagnosed in the past year, bringing the total number of diabetics in Northern Ireland to 66,000. It’s time for all of us to get serious about our health if we want to have any chance of defusing the ticking timebomb of Type 2 diabetes.”
Mr Foster added that the organisation wanted a NHS screening programme similar to one operating in England.
He said the NHS Health Checks programme aimed to assess and manage vascular risk in England and identified people at risk of prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes.
The charity chief said many people with prediabetes are overweight or obese — and 90% will either have a family history of the condition or have high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
- Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes and accounts for approximately 90% of all people with the condition.
- It develops when the body can still make some insulin, but not enough, or when the insulin that is produced does not work properly. In most cases this is linked with being overweight.
- Over 40s are most at risk.
- There are currently 66,000 people with diabetes in Northern Ireland and up to 12,500 people who have diabetes, but don’t know it.