Obesity and physical inactivity: Diabetes on the rise

Close shot of a belly that’s size is measured. (picture: Dieter Schütz/pixelio.de)
Increasing obesity is one of the main reasons for raising diabetes figures. (picture: Dieter Schütz/pixelio.de)

The International Diabetes Federation IDF calls diabetes a "global burden" and an "epidemic of the 21st Century".

According to the IDF Diabetes Atlas 2010, there are 285 million people worldwide affected by diabetes. By 2030, that number could increase to half a billion. Also young people are more and more affected by diabetes.

The numbers are alarming

According to the World Health Organization WHO, an estimated 3.4 million people worldwide died 2004 from the effects of diabetes. Diabetes is now the fourth leading cause of death from disease. About 90% of all diabetes cases are Diabetes Type 2. Only 5%of the sufferers are Type 1. In addition, there is gestational diabetes as well as a large group of other forms of diabetes.

An improvement is not in sight, not at all: WHO and IDF are assuming that the number of cases will come close to half a billion by 2030. Already today, the global costs of diabetes worldwide are valued at $ 420 billion annually.

Yet our society continues to age, reason for the disproportionately increasing number of diseases like diabetes is primarily the growing obesity and lack of movement. For the more frequent overweight, the sedentary lifestyles are blamed with little physical activity as well as the frequent consumption of energy-rich foods.

Two people are jogging in a park. (picture: Hartmut910/pixelio.de)
Exercise can ease the symptoms of diabetes. (picture: Hartmut910/pixelio.de)

Sugar: fuel of life

In only five decades, Diabetes has become a serious health threat to our society. But what does a diagnosis of "diabetic" mean? Basically, the blood contains glucose (sugar). Without blood sugar, people would not survive. Sugar is the fuel, so to speak, from which the cells of the body extract vital energy.

This energy is taken in with food and the body stores it, for example, in muscles, or the liver, that provides the organism with the vital glucose. The blood carries the sugar into the cells where it is incinerated and converted into energy. For the opening of the cells and the regulation of domestic sugar, the hormone insulin is responsible.

If the organism is healthy, it produces the needed amount of insulin by itself in the pancreas. Immediately after the meal, it provides the body with the necessary insulin and ensures that the blood sugar level falls again. In diabetics, however, the blood sugar rises quickly. To prevent this, the body must be supplied with additional insulin.

Open insulin injection box. (picture: Micheal Horn/pixelio.de)
Insulin injections can regulate the blood sugar level. (picture: Micheal Horn/pixelio.de)

Type 1 diabetes: early diagnosis possible

There are two different types of diabetes, which differ in cause, origin and also in treatment. The so-called Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the body's immune system destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. The cause of Type 1 diabetes is today understood as a multi-factorial process involving both genetic and environmental factors. So far, about 20 genes have been identified to be associated with the development of Type 1 diabetes.

Affected people depend on artificial supply of insulin for their whole life; treatment options do not exist yet. Type 1 can be detected early on closer observation since the typical symptoms like excessive thirst, frequent urination, or a severe weight loss arise within a short time.

Type 2 long undetected

More frequent than Type 1 diabetes is Type 2 diabetes, about 90% of all diabetes cases are Type 2. The pancreas of affected patients produces insulin but progressively not in sufficient quantity anymore. Or else, the body cannot use insulin effectively to convert blood sugar into energy. In this case, we speak of the so-called insulin resistance.

 In Type 2 diabetes, symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, blurred vision or a greater tendency to infection are often only in the initial phase. Since these symptoms are nonspecific, it takes on average seven years, to diagnose Type 2 diabetes. And so half of all people with diabetes still do not know they are ill.

Text: Patrick Gunti - 02/2011

Translation: MPL

Picture: pixelio.de