Australia’s largest study of diabetes testing pinpoints hot spots

Obesity is one of the main causes of type 2 diabetes, which represents about 90 percent of diabetes in Australia.

The largest-ever analysis of type 2 diabetes test results in Australia confirms people in Western Sydney are more at risk of the potentially deadly disease than those living elsewhere in the city.

Researchers at Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) and the University of Wollongong (UOW) examined more than 500,000 past blood test results, to map where the disease is most prevalent.

WSLHD senior endocrinologist Professor Glen Maberly said studying the spatial distribution and incidence of Type 2 diabetes across suburbs will allow clinicians to better manage the disease.

“We looked at past blood test results of half a million de-identified patients from pathology services across the greater Sydney region, and what we found was surprising,” Professor Maberly said.

“While we knew diabetes was more prevalent in Western Sydney than elsewhere, we found the median HbA1c was eight to 25 percent higher than in other regions which indicates a greater risk of diabetes.

An HbA1c blood test is used to diagnose and manage diabetes. A result equal to, or above 6.5 percent signals cause for concern. The median HbA1c for many areas in Sydney’s west was at least that or higher.

Increased car dependency, dietary changes, an ageing population, physical inactivity, genetics and economic factors all contribute to the increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes is a disease that occurs when the body cannot control blood sugar levels. Over time, an excess of glucose in the blood stream can damage the body’s blood vessels and nerves, leading to long term consequences including heart, kidney and eye disease, and nerve damage in the feet.

The NSW Government has invested $38 million in the 2018-19 NSW budget to tackle obesity, $25 million of which has been allocated specifically to fight childhood obesity. The Western Sydney Local Health District invests approximately $2 million each year on tackling obesity, including $1.5 million for its innovative diabetes prevention and management programs.

Obesity is one of the main causes of Type 2 diabetes, which represents about 90 percent of diabetes in Australia. Professor Maberly said just a few simple steps can stop diabetes in its tracks.

“Losing just two kilograms and maintaining a diet full of fresh fruit and vegetables can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes by 30 per cent, while a weight loss of  eight to 15kilograms can reverse type 2 diabetes in those already diagnosed.

“Prevention is always better than cure and individuals and families are encouraged to get more active and to eat a healthy diet low in processed foods which contain a lot of fat and sugar, as this will not only help to prevent type 2 diabetes but will leave you feeling more energised.”

Residents in Western Sydney are fortunate to have access to world-class health services and professionals who are experts in diabetes prevention and management, but tackling diabetes requires a whole-of-community approach.

Speak to your GP about diabetes and whether you could be at risk. Early intervention can be life-saving.