Bringing Diabetes To Light

by Jamye Drohan

“We have a major epidemic on our hands”, says Lorenzo Piemonte, from the International Diabetes Federation(IDF), “and the major challenge we’re facing is the lack of global awareness of the seriousness of the diabetes epidemic.”

World Diabetes Day(WDD) takes place on Sunday November 14th and is the primary global awareness campaign for diabetes.

According to IDF over 300 million people have diabetes worldwide, and that number is expected to soar to half a billion by 2030. A further 350 million people are thought to be at risk of developing the condition.

Worryingly, diabetes kills four million people a year.

“Due to the lack of public awareness on diabetes it is not thought of as serious or dramatic. We need to create a sense of urgency.”

WDD became an official United Nations day in 2007 under the UN resolution 61/225.

“It was the first UN resolution on any Non- Communicable Disease and was the first time governments acknowledged that diabetes was a global problem.

“For real change to take place, we need political backing.”

In August the Scottish government launched the Scottish Diabetes Action Plan, a three- year action plan to promote self- management of diabetes through education and better access to psychological support. It also aims to emphasise the importance of screening and prevention.

Blue Monument Challenge

The WDD Blue Monument Challenge initiative is in its third year and encourages towns and cities globally to flood their buildings and monuments in blue light to mark the occasion. 

Inverness Castle lit in blue for WDD 2009

In Inverness, the community is geared up for WDD, with the Castle, Cathedral, road bridge and main offices of the University of Highlands and Islands all being floodlit this weekend.

Chris Claridge, chair of the Inverness and District Voluntary Group, is heavily involved in the awareness campaign in the area.

“We arranged with the council to have the buildings floodlit. The buildings and the bridge are all in close proximity, and will all be lit in blue for the weekend.

“We are also having an information strand in Inverness City Centre on Saturday for the second year, to attract people who may have an interest in diabetes, whether they themselves have it, or family, or maybe they feel they’re at risk. We hand out leaflets, give advice, tell people about our local meetings and our group.

“We have young people who dress up as blood testing meters. People really enjoy it.

“And this year we have a senior diabetes nurse and a P.E. teacher who is Type 1 holding gentle activity classes to encourage people to become more active. They will be doing things like cheerleading classes on the Saturday and encouraging people to join in the fun.”

With so much going on in Inverness, why are other Scottish cities not as involved?

“I think it’s to do with our size. We’re smaller, there’s more of a community spirit and we have close links to the main hospital here, Raigmore. In places such as Glasgow there’s more hospitals, more people but not the same participation. It’s also important for promoting both Inverness and diabetes.”

The Inverness and District Voluntary Group provide local GPs with booklets on ‘Living with Diabetes’.

“With ninety people a month being diagnosed in the Highlands, it’s important that patients are receiving support. We hope the leaflets provide information that people need when first faced with diabetes. It can be quite a shock, and a lot to take in.

“We currently put out a newsletter three times a year and are working on setting up a website, but I worry that we’re just scraping the surface in terms of contacting people.”

300 million diabetics and rising

With health care professionals predicting the number of diagnoses will continue to rise, questions are being asked as to why the situation is worsening.

Piemonte says: “Ageing populations and lifestyle changes have resulted in a dramatic increase. Rapid economic development has been associated with tremendous modification in lifestyle reflected by changes in nutrition, less physical activity, increased obesity and more smoking.”

Stephen Fyfe from Diabetes UK Scotland agrees. “It is our lifestyles. People are not as active. Our diets include more processed foods. Our sugar consumption is through the roof. Environmental factors are being looked into too.”

Funding Research

Piemonte and IDF believe research is vital. “We’re happy to see advances in science being made in all corners of the globe. A cure for diabetes can come from any part of the world which is why it is important that diabetes research is generously funded.”

In September, it was announced that Diabetes UK and the Chief Scientist Office(CSO) in Scotland would provide joint funding for a research initiative titled the “Scottish Diabetes Research Network”(SDRN). This research aims to provide a data resource that other researchers can then use.

Key areas of research include the genetics and complications of diabetes, as well as understanding how the environment impacts on genes to create diabetes.

Professor Helen Colhoun, Professor of Public Health at the University of Dundee, and co- ordinator of the SDRN, explains, “With this research, we can then develop interventions in the key pathways that lead to diabetes, and prevent it.”

The initiative will receive £675,000 from Diabetes UK and the Scottish Government. “Research is expensive but we are doing this as cheaply as we can and are drawing on as much existing infrastructure as possible.”

The money will largely go into research, nurse time, equipment and lab freezers.

“Our estimated cost per patient seen in £96- that is low.”

Extra staff will be put into clinics taking part so as not to interupt or cause delays for patients, who will be asked to contribute by donating blood and urine samples for the research project.

Professor Colhoun believes that long term, the SDRN will save the NHS money.

“The complications of diabetes are costly and preventing them is the best way to help patients and reduce that cost.”

Recently diagnosed

Craig Reid, 24, from North Berwick discovered he had Type 1 diabetes in September.

“I think diabetes is common enough to be a well known illness, but I don’t think it’s understood. Most people I’ve told about it have very little or no concept of what it is and how it affects you.

“It’s an ongoing process explaining to family how living with diabetes makes you feel.”

It is difficult to recognise the symptoms of diabetes when awareness is not widespread.

“I was in the fortunate position to have a good pal that is also Type 1 and she was able to raise the alarm for me and give me the right advice to get checked out.

“Looking back, all the symptoms I had can be found in all the leaflets I’ve been given. Having that information available to me earlier would have helped.”

Reid thinks that the term ‘epidemic’ might be exaggerated.

“The reaction I get when I tell people is ‘Oh, loads of people have that now!’ But, as far as I can see that’s not the case. About 4.6% of the UK population have diabetes. Around 90% are Type 2, so my opinion is Type 1 is not as common as people think, although I do realise the number is on the rise.”

Facts and Figures

by Elizabeth Ting

Type 1

  • diabetes develops when the insulin-producing cells in the body have been destroyed and the body is unable to produce any insulin.
  • accounts for between 5 and 15% of all people with diabetes and is treated by daily insulin injections, a healthy diet and regular physical activity.
  • Type 1 cannot be prevented, and usually appears in younger people (under 40).

Type 2

  • develops when the body can still make some insulin, but not enough, or when the insulin that is produced does not work properly (known as insulin resistance).
  • accounts for between 85 and 95% of all people with diabetes and is treated with a healthy diet and increased physical activity.
  • Type 2 is often linked to obesity and bad diet, is more common in older people and is sometimes referred to as “late onset diabetes”.


  • passing urine more often than usual, especially at night
  • increased thirst
  • extreme tiredness
  • unexplained weight loss

If you are experiencing any combination of the above symptoms, visit your GP and ask them to test your blood glucose level.

Risk factors

You could be at risk if:

  • A close member of your family has Type 2 diabetes (parent or brother or sister).
  • You are overweight or your waist is 31.5 inches or over for women, 35 inches or over for Asian men and 37 inches or over for white and black men.
  • You have high blood pressure or you have had a heart attack or a stroke.
  • You are a woman with polycystic ovary syndrome and you are overweight.
  • You have been told you have impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glycaemia.
  • If you are a woman and have had gestational diabetes.
  • You have severe mental health problems.

If you would like to find out if you are at risk, a test to assess your chances of developing diabetes is available here.

More information and advice is available at the Diabetes UK website.

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