Why is World Diabetes Day a Major Health Event in 2022?

world diabetes day

What is World Diabetes Day?

World Diabetes Day was created in 1991 by the IDF and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in response to growing concerns about the escalating health threat posed by diabetes.

World Diabetes Day became an official Union Nations Day in 2006. It is marked every 14 November, the birthday of Sir Frederick Banting, who co-discovered insulin along with Charles Best in 1922.

Unfortunately, 100 years after the discovery of insulin, the number of people with diabetes around the world continues to rise. World Diabetes Day raises awareness of the different types of diabetes, the risk factors, diabetes’ disproportionate impact on low-income families, and the ongoing challenges of accessing care in many parts of the world.

World Diabetes Day stresses that the key to ending diabetes is understanding diabetes.

Why is World Diabetes Day Important?

This year’s World Diabetes Day takes place during the centenary of the discovery of insulin. This consequential anniversary presents a singular opportunity to talk about a condition that affects over 460 million people around the world – a figure that has quadrupled since the 1980s.

Diabetes affects 1 in 10 people worldwide, and this number is sure to rise with the sharp increase in associated risk factors such as obesity and highly processed diets. Over the past decades, diagnoses of Type 2 diabetes have become increasingly prevalent in low and middle-income countries.

The increase in diabetes in these groups is generally attributed to the limited availability and affordability of healthy foods.

However, this view paints a narrow picture of the higher incidence of Type 2 diabetes in these communities. Economic deprivation is associated with higher levels of physical inactivity, smoking, and poor blood pressure control, as well as less health-related education and access to medical care.

Moreover, times of economic uncertainty, such as the cost of living crisis we are experiencing in the UK, force people to make less informed food decisions and rely on cheaper, processed foods to get by.

Many people are unaware that diabetes is a major cause of blindness, stroke, heart attack, lower limb amputation, and kidney failure.

World Diabetes Day seeks to emphasise that many cases of diabetes are preventable through a healthy diet, consistent physical activity, and avoiding tobacco. This can be achieved by increasing access to routine medical check-ups, tackling corporate greed to improve the affordability of healthy foods, and protecting free recreational spaces to encourage physical activity.

World Diabetes Day also advocates that insulin, a vital lifeline for those with diabetes, should not be a privilege reserved for the wealthy, but available to all, no matter their income bracket.

What are the different types of diabetes?

There are two main types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. The difference between the two main categories of diabetes is important to understand. There are also several lesser-known types of diabetes that can affect people. What all types have in common is that blood glucose levels are higher than normal.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is the least common of the two. Although Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age, it is usually diagnosed before your late 30s. The exact causes of Type 1 diabetes are still unknown.

Type 1 diabetes is regarded as an autoimmune condition. An autoimmune condition is when your immune system, which normally defends your body against disease, attacks itself instead. In Type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks the body’s insulin-producing beta cells.

There is no cure for this type of diabetes, and the only treatment is insulin, which must be injected into the body.

There is currently little evidence to suggest that Type 1 diabetes is hereditary. Around 90% of people with Type 1 diabetes have no relatives living with the condition.

Research indicates that there are some genetic factors that can predispose you to developing Type 1 diabetes. Specific gene markers are associated with the development of Type 1 diabetes. However, the gene markers themselves are not enough to cause Type 1 diabetes.

Symptoms of Type 1 diabetes vary in severity from person to person, but generally include:

  • Going to the toilet often – If the body lacks the mechanism to eliminate glucose, it will attempt to do so via urination.
  • Being extremely thirsty – If you are urinating more to eliminate excess glucose through urination, you will be thirstier.
  • Fruity-smelling breath – When your body is unable to regulate its glucose levels, an acid known as ketones will begin to build up. This will cause your breath to smell like fruit drops, which is typically accompanied by intense stomach pain.
  • Changes in vision – Many people report blurry vision or loss of sight before they are diagnosed with diabetes.
  • Tiredness – The condition can negatively impact the body’s energy levels, leaving you more tired than usual.
  • Weight loss – When your body lacks energy, it will seek to find it from other sources. In people with diabetes, the body will usually try to obtain energy by breaking down fat stores.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is the most common of the two. In fact, around 90% of the people living with diabetes in the UK suffer from Type 2. Type 2 diabetes is most common in people over the age of 40.  Alarmingly, however, it is becoming more and more common in young people.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body either cannot make enough insulin or makes insulin that the body cannot process properly. This means that the cells in the body become resistant to insulin, requiring the body to increase its insulin production levels to regulate glucose levels.

This usually results in the pancreas wearing out from extra insulin production until it eventually starts making less and less.

Although it can be managed through diet, self-monitoring blood glucose, and exercise, Type 2 diabetes is regarded as a progressive condition. This means that it will become more chronic over time, which will require most people to inject insulin or take tablets within 5 to 10 years of their diagnosis.

Unlike Type 1 diabetes, the symptoms of Type 2 can be somewhat deceptive and take a few years to develop. The symptoms are quite similar to Type 1 diabetes and typically include:

  • Going to the toilet more frequently.
  • Increased thirst.
  • Feeling extremely fatigued and tired a lot of the time.
  • Unintentional changes in weight.
  • Repeatedly getting thrush.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Delayed wound healing.

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes affects between 2 and 5% of all pregnant women. When a woman is pregnant, her body produces large amounts of hormones. These hormones can impact the body’s ability to produce and process insulin. A woman’s insulin requirements have usually tripled by the time she reaches her third trimester. However, her blood glucose levels will begin to rise rapidly if her pancreas is unable to keep up with the increased demand.

After pregnancy, the blood sugar levels of a woman who has experienced gestational diabetes will usually return to normal. However, there is evidence that Type 2 diabetes is more likely to develop in women who have had gestational diabetes.

How can I take part in World Diabetes Day?

There are many ways that you can take part in World Diabetes Day. One of the best ways to commemorate World Diabetes Day is by ‘going blue.’ The colour blue is used to denote support for those with diabetes and for finding a cure. Going blue can take the form of wearing a blue ribbon or clothing to show your support for the cause.

You can take part in the #NailingDiabetes campaign by painting your nails blue to show your solidarity.

You can also organise or take part in local fundraising events such as a sponsored run to raise money for diabetes research.

Most importantly, you can take part in World Diabetes Day by keeping the dialogue around diabetes open. Speaking openly about your experiences with diabetes, supporting others with the condition, and calling on policymakers to make informed decisions about diabetes and lifestyle initiatives will ensure the fight against diabetes is not forgotten.