Sufferer David Scott is critical of the publicity given to diabetes
Patients' representatives say blaming lifestyle factors for a rise in diabetes cases could lead to sufferers facing discrimination. Dave Blackhurst looks into the issue...
THE bald headline figures which appear to show an explosion in diabetes cases may not be quite what they seem.
And according to patients' leaders, the conclusions some experts are drawing from the data could result in sufferers facing discrimination.
Statistics put out by Diabetes UK show that the number of people with diabetes has soared by nearly 60 percent in the past decade.
The charity says more than 3.3 million people have some form of the condition, up from 2.1 million in 2005.
Diabetes patients cannot control the level of sugar in their blood, which can lead to blindness, amputations and even death.
People with Type 1 diabetes generally develop it in childhood and are unable to produce the hormone insulin to control their blood sugar levels
But as Type 2 diabetes, which experts link to diet and obesity, accounts for 90 per cent of cases, NHS leaders say more measures are needed to tackle poor lifestyle in order to bring the numbers down.
Patients' representatives in North Staffordshire, though, believe this is oversimplifying the issue.
While not denying the incidence of the disease is rising, they argue that much of the increase is down to GPs being much more vigilant at diagnosing diabetes in the early stages.
In short, bigger numbers were always out there but were hidden and are only now being diagnosed and so recorded in official data.
And that goes for Britain as a whole as well as North Staffordshire, where there are now 36,000 known diabetics.
Diabetes UK North Staffs secretary David Scott, who has suffered from the condition for 16 years, is annoyed that another report is linking diabetes with obesity.
The 43-year-old, from Chesterton, said: "I am annoyed by all the national publicity all this has generated this week.
"We have known all about such a national epidemic for five years since the Department of Health put out figures so there is little new here.
"But I do worry that this constant linking of Type 2 to obesity is dangerous as it could lead to society starting to demonise patients.
"While there is undoubtedly a lifestyle link, there are very many Type 2 diabetics who are not obese in the slightest.
"They may have it through hereditary factors yet people could start to think it is their fault they have the condition.
"That could lead to discrimination against patients including bullying of children – even though they will be Type 1 – and people becoming reluctant to be checked for it.
"Our illness already has a low profile compared to cancer, heart disease and stroke, and such demonising will not rectify that. In fact those with Type 1 are already asking for their diabetes to be called something else to cut the links with Type 2.
"Certainly lifestyle has changed dramatically over the past 30 years. We have office jobs instead of heavy industry, an explosion of takeaways and people having 'ping meals' rather than cook.
"But that goes for the country as a whole not just diabetics."
He said that with GPs now looking out for it and sending even borderline cases for tests there was no surprise figures were rising.
Retired oatcake baker Malcolm Barber has had Type 2 diabetes for 17 years yet his six foot frame weighs just 12 stone – putting him well within the healthy weight bracket.
The 68-year-old, from Hanley, said: "In my case it is hereditary and my sister has it at just eight stone.
"I agree that constantly linking it to obesity is not always helpful but as I am at the limit of my medication working I will need to lose half a stone to prevent complications.