Growing diabetes epidemic in remote NT communities

Prevalence of sex-specific and age-related diabetes among Aboriginal people living in remote Northern Territory communities in 2018/2019 95% of CIs are used for error bars. 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.

Focusing on adults, the results show that 29% of Aboriginals in remote NT communities have diabetes. This burden is highest in Central Australia where a staggering 40% have the condition. Diabetes is a major contributor to kidney disease and heart disease, strokes, impaired sight, and amputations due too infections.

The study analyzes seven years of health data relating over 21,000 Aboriginal persons from 51 remote communities across NT. It was published in an open access journal online BMJ Open.

Dr. Matthew Hare is the lead author. He is an Endocrinologist at Royal Darwin Hospital, and Senior Research Officer at Menzies School of Health Research. He stated that the type 2 diabetes burden among Aboriginal people living in remote areas of the NT is one of the highest reported worldwide. There is a dire need to develop preventative strategies to address this crisis.

Type 2 Diabetes is not due to lifestyle choices. This epidemic is strongly linked to colonization’s effects and the ongoing economic and social disadvantage that many Aboriginal people in remote NT are experiencing.”

Dr. Hare stated, “Holistic prevention strategies should be developed and implemented with Aboriginal community members, as well as better resourcing of clinic care for chronic conditions.

Alarmingly type 2 diabetes is being diagnosed at an alarmingly young age, whereas it was previously believed to be a condition that only affected 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 see people not only developing type 2 diabetes earlier than they should, but also complications like kidney and heart disease,” Dr. Rosser said. Dr. Rosser stated that early diagnosis and primary care are essential to maximize the health of Aboriginal people living in remote areas.

The Northern Territory continues to see an increase in diabetes rates in pregnant women

More information:
Matthew J L Hare and colleagues, Diabetes incidence and prevalence among Aboriginal people living in remote Northern Territory communities, Australia: A retrospective, longitudinal data-linkage analysis. BMJ Open (2022). DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2021-059716

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Menzies School of Health Research

Diabetes epidemic growing in remote NT communities (2022, May 19,)
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