Australia is winning an important battle in the war against diabetes with more patients avoiding the dangerous complications of the disease and living longer as a result of improved medical care – even though rates of obesity continue to rise.
A 20 year landmark analysis of Australians living with type 2 diabetes reveals lower blood glucose levels and a marked reduction in rates of ‘bad’ cholesterol than was the case in the 1990s. Offsetting these ‘medical wins’ is the finding that diabetes patients are larger today than in the late twentieth century.
Head of the Fremantle Diabetes Study, Professor Tim Davis told the Australian Diabetes Society / Australian Diabetes Educators Association Annual Scientific Meeting that the "tide was turning" against the insidious disease that now affects nearly one million Australians.
"Medical care is improving, but the implication is that lifestyle factors continue to let patients down," said Professor Davis during a presentation on the Gold Coast.
"This is the first Australian research to show that blood sugar control is improving in patients with type 2 diabetes," he said. "Unfortunately our data also reveals that the average Body Mass Index for a person with diabetes is now in the obese category."
Data from the Fremantle Study – which is considered a litmus test for diabetes care in Australia – showed that compared to type 2 diabetes patients treated between 1993-1996 (1,296 patients) those treated between 2008-2011 (1,509 patients from the same catchment area):
Have lower average blood glucose (HbA1c of 6.8 vs. 7.2) and fasting serum glucose (7.2 vs. 8.0
Have lower levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL 2.3 vs. 3.3 mmol/L);
Are living longer (mean age of 65.4 vs 64.0 years); and
Are more overweight (average Body Mass Index of 31.3 [obese] vs. 29.6 [overweight]).
"These changes are highly significant," Professor Davis said. "The benefits of early diagnosis and more intensive treatment of both blood glucose and cholesterol levels is paying dividends. Diabetes patients are living longer and this suggests that they are suffering fewer heart attacks and strokes,"
Professor Davis took the opportunity to call for greater use of cholesterol-lowering medication by diabetes patients, noting that one third of diabetes patients eligible for Government subsidised statin therapy remained untreated.
"It’s a missed opportunity," he said. "Many of the main complications of diabetes can be averted if very low cholesterol levels are maintained. This is often only possible with medication."