The United Nations has many remits, one of which is the health of global citizens. One of their public health days is World Diabetes Day, in which they raise awareness of the problems of diabetes and promote good physical health. They estimate that around 422m people worldwide have diabetes (based on 2014 estimates) which is double what it was in 1980. This is a growing problem and for many people, a preventable one.
There are many types of diabetes, all relating to blood glucose. In general terms, we mean one of two.
• Type I Diabetes: This is relatively rare, with only 10% of diabetics having this type. It occurs because the immune system attacks cells that produce insulin. This cannot be controlled by diet; once you receive a diagnosis you will need to inject insulin for the remainder of your life.
• Type II Diabetes: This is the most common form with around 90% of diabetics having this type. The body either produces too little insulin or none. Excess weight and too little exercise increase risk, but so does age.
Why World Diabetes Day?
The United Nations carefully selects which public health issues it endorses, usually on the grounds of being a major issue. The number of global diabetics is problematic in itself, but as 90% of diabetics have the preventable type in 2016 the UN General Assembly designated 14th November World Diabetes Day in 2007 to raise this public health issue. It’s been an annual event ever since. Today, it works in association with the International Diabetes Foundation to raise awareness of the scale of the problem and what we can all do to help prevent diabetes risks.
As the data section below shows, most problems with diabetes are caused by poverty and lifestyle, some of which is preventable with health education and improved healthcare.
Essential World Diabetes Statistics
We noted above that the number of diabetics doubled from 108m in 1980 to 422m in 2014 and population growth does account for a small number. However, the percentage increase over the same period grew from 4.7% to 8.5%, with the fastest increase in countries of low and middle income. A World Health Organisation report in 2015 attributed some 1.6m deaths in that year directly to diabetes. High blood glucose killed around 2.2m in 2012. Almost half of all deaths globally of those under the age of 70 are attributed to diabetes. If left unchecked, it could be the seventh highest killer globally by 2030.
The statistics relating to low-income countries is particularly noteworthy when we understand the need for a healthy diet and regular physical activity. These are often countries with significant poverty, high instances of smoking, lack of access to health advice, and poor diet. Long-term, diabetes causes kidney failure, stroke, heart attack and blindness.
What is the UN/WHO Doing?
The World Health Organisation is tasked with supporting governments to implement measures to monitor, control, and prevent diabetes with a strong focus on these low earning countries. Their approach incorporates scientific guidelines for governments and health bodies as well as information exchange for the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of diabetes.
Awareness is a major part of their strategy too. In building understanding in countries where diabetes is lower and emphasising the link with poverty, World Diabetes Day brings together the global community to tackle the problem. In 2016, WHO published a Global Report on Diabetes to provide information on these areas while their Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health covered diabetes as a problem related to health, diet and lifestyle.