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Our looming health crisis

12 August 2016
The most common causes of death in Australia are lifestyle-related chronic diseases

Professor Jenny Gunton from the Westmead Institute for Medical Research and Sydney Medical School discusses why researchers are increasingly concerned that diabetes could break the healthcare budget.

Close up of man checking blood sugar level by glucometer

The most common causes of death in Australia are lifestyle-related chronic diseases like diabetes, liver, heart and kidney disease. Each of these illnesses are directly related to obesity and physical inactivity. Due to our unhealthy lifestyle, more Australians are dying from these disorders than from anything else.

There is increasing concern that the cost of diabetes and related complications will break Australia’s healthcare budget, if we as a country don’t do something soon.

1.1 million Australians are diagnosed as having diabetes. More than 100,000 people develop diabetes in Australia each year. Diabetes damages many parts of the body, and places enormous strain on health services. Diabetes is diagnosed by high glucose in the blood. Glucose is used in the body as a form of energy, but when there are high levels of glucose, many different types of cells cannot protect themselves from excess energy, including cells in the eyes, kidneys, blood vessels, nerves and feet. Complications associated with diabetes arise in these parts of the body.

Our treatments for diabetes have steadily improved over many years. The outcomes per person for diabetes now are far better than they were 30 or 40 years ago, and an individual with diabetes has far lower risk of blindness, kidney failure or amputation than in the past. The problem for the healthcare system is that there are a lot more people with diabetes than ever before, so the absolute numbers of people going blind, needing amputations or suffering kidney failure continue to increase.

The total annual cost of diabetes in Australia is almost $15 billion.

Contributing factors

A number of factors are contributing to this growing health crisis, including Australia’s ageing population (as you get older, your risk of type 2 diabetes increases); the increasing rate of obesity (which increases risk of diabetes); and increasingly sedentary lifestyles (the less exercise you do and the less fit you are, the more likely you are to develop type 2 diabetes).

Liver fat is a very powerful predictor for the future development of diabetes. Once excess fat gets into the liver, it increases insulin resistance, which means more insulin has to be made to avoid diabetes. Once you develop diabetes, you are far more likely to develop cardiovascular disease and kidney disease. 

The most common cause of kidney failure worldwide is now diabetes. As the rate of diabetes continues to increase, the rate of kidney disease is also increasing at an alarming rate. Sadly, diabetes is also the most common cause of preventable blindness in Australia.

The most obvious way to prevent diabetes and its complications is not to get diabetes. This mean to exercise, eat well and maintain a healthy weight. We have seen a number of excellent studies showing that increasing your exercise and losing even a fairly small amount of weight (3-4kg) can decrease the risk of diabetes by up to 60%. And, it isn’t too late after diabetes develops – significant weight loss and exercise in some people can actually reverse diabetes, and even if it doesn’t, will decrease risk of complications and heart disease. 

Discover more when a panel of leading researchers from our Westmead campus present at Diabetes, Heart Disease, Obesity: a looming healthcare crisis? on Tuesday 16 August. 

Diabetes, Heart Disease, Obesity: A healthcare crisis?

A Sydney Ideas talk co-presented with the Westmead Institute for Medical Research for Sydney Science Festival 2016.

The University of Sydney brings together a panel of leading researchers based at our Westmead campus to discuss the latest science of this healthcare crisis.

  • Professor Jacob George, Robert W. Storr Professor of Hepatic Medicine at the Storr Liver Centre, The Westmead Institute for Medical Research, University of Sydney
  • Associate Professor Germaine Wong, academic transplant nephrologist at Westmead Hospital, The Westmead Institute for Medical Research and Principal Research Fellow at the University of Sydney
  • Professor Mark Mclean was Chair of Medicine at Western Sydney University’s Blacktown/Mt Druitt Clinical School until 2016 and is currently working to optimise the health system for management and prevention of diabetes in Western Sydney.
  • Professor Chris Liddle, Professor of Clinical Pharmacology & Hepatology at the University of Sydney and The Westmead Institute for Medical Research
Tuesday 16 August 2016
6.00pm - 7.30pm
Westmead Institute for Medical Research, 176 Hawkesbury Rd Westmead
Free with registration
Register now

Professor Jenny Gunton

Westmead Institute for Medical Research and Sydney Medical School