Growing diabetes epidemic in remote NT communities

Growing diabetes epidemic in remote NT communities
Age and sex-specific diabetes prevalence in 2018/2019 among Aboriginal people in remote Northern Territory communities. Error bars are 95% CIs. Credit: BMJ Open (2022). DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2021-059716

A new paper published this week shows rates of diabetes among Aboriginal people in remote Northern Territory (NT) communities are some of the highest in the world and getting worse—with the condition affecting more people, year after year.

The research shows the prevalence of diabetes is currently 17% (of which 99% is classified as type 2 diabetes)—up from 14.4% recorded in 2012.

When focusing on the , the findings show a massive 29% of Aboriginal people in remote NT communities have diabetes, with the burden highest in the Central Australia region, where a staggering 40% of adults now have the condition. Diabetes is a leading contributor to , heart disease, strokes, impaired vision and amputations due to infections.

The study analyzes seven-years’ worth of health data relating to over 21,000 Aboriginal people from 51 remote communities across the NT. It was published in the online open access journal BMJ Open.

Lead author Dr. Matthew Hare, Endocrinologist at Royal Darwin Hospital and Senior Research Officer at Menzies School of Health Research, said the burden of type 2 diabetes among Aboriginal people in remote communities of the NT is among the highest reported of any population globally, and there is an urgent need to introduce preventative strategies to address the crisis.

“Type 2 diabetes is not due to ‘lifestyle choices.’ This epidemic is strongly related to the impacts of colonization and the ongoing social and economic disadvantage experienced by many Aboriginal people in the remote NT.”

“Holistic prevention strategies need to be developed and implemented in partnership with Aboriginal community members, alongside better resourcing of for in remote communities,” Dr. Hare said.

Alarmingly, type 2 diabetes is seen at increasingly young ages, when previously the condition was thought to mainly affect older people. Co-author Dr. Amy Rosser, who is the Senior Remote Medical Practitioner in a desert community about 300km from Alice Springs, said Aboriginal people aged 20–39 years in remote parts of the NT are 26 times more likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes than people of the same age in the national Australian population.

“I am seeing people not only develop type 2 diabetes earlier in life, but also the complications, such as kidney and heart disease. Early diagnosis and well-resourced is essential for maximizing the health of Aboriginal people in remote communities,” Dr. Rosser said.

Rates of diabetes in pregnancy continue to rise in the Northern Territory

More information:
Matthew J L Hare et al, Prevalence and incidence of diabetes among Aboriginal people in remote communities of the Northern Territory, Australia: a retrospective, longitudinal data-linkage study, BMJ Open (2022). DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2021-059716

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Menzies School of Health Research

Growing diabetes epidemic in remote NT communities (2022, May 19)
retrieved 19 May 2022

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