What is diabetes and how does it affect people in the UK?

What is diabetes and how does it affect people in the UK?

Diabetes Week is underway! Here is some information about the condition to help with myth-busting!

Almost 5 million people have diabetes in the UK and a further 13.6 million are at risk of developing diabetes. The numbers of those with diabetes have more than doubled since 1996. About 90% of these individuals are living with type 2 diabetes, 8% are living with type 1, and the remaining 2% have other rarer types of diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes develops due to a number of different risk factors such as age, genetics, other conditions and lifestyle. Not all people who are overweight develop type 2 diabetes and likewise not all people with type 2 diabetes are overweight. We know however that if you carry more weight around your tummy this can put you more at risk.

Type 2 diabetes is caused by insulin resistance and/or a lack of insulin being produced from the pancreas. It is a completely separate condition to type 1 diabetes, which tends to develop earlier in life. Type 1 is an autoimmune condition resulting in a complete lack of insulin production from the pancreas. If someone with type 2 diabetes starts taking insulin, this does not make them a type 1!

The environment we live in, unhealthy foods, lack of exercise and stress all increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and can lead to poor management of the condition. Managing diabetes is so vital to avoid long-term effects.

The role of the dietitian is to educate individuals on diabetes and how to help manage it through diet and lifestyle changes. Providing practical and individualised advice to patients based on evidence-based recommendations and research. By giving individuals the underlying knowledge and skills to make their own decisions, they are better able to self-manage. Dietitians also have a role in supporting and reassuring patients throughout their journey of making lifestyle changes. This includes responding to any concerns they may have. Helping patients to explore their barriers to change can help them find ways to overcome problems and make long-term changes to their habits.

For many people, making diet changes can be straight-forward. They are autonomous and are able to take the necessary steps to ultimately eat healthier and exercise. This is not the case for everyone. Dietitians work with individuals with complex mental health needs, social issues and learning disabilities. These people require support from family, friends and carers. We might not achieve everything we’d ideally want but can keep them well and avoid hospital admission.

It is really important to remember that it is not one-size-fits-all when it comes to choosing your approach to managing diabetes. One person might have had amazing success on a particular diet and recommend anyone that has diabetes to follow the same. However, a person may have a different medical history, be taking different medication, or simply have a different routine which does not fit with such a diet.  Having worked with hundreds, if not thousands of people with diabetes, nothing is more important than finding an approach that works long-term and is suited to the individual.